How Linux dominates the mobile market

Linux is a free and Open Source operating system built by thousands of contributors across the world. The Linux kernel was developed by Linus Torvalds in 1991. Linux gained good traction after its release and in the years has become one of the most secure operating systems in the world. Linux is used by almost every organisation in the world at some point. Linux runs on mobile phones, tablets, servers, desktops, supercomputers and in embedded systems such as network routers, building automation controls, televisions and video game consoles. Linux was originally developed for Intel x86-based personal computers. Over the years, Linux been ported to other hardware platforms such as Arm, x86_64. It is a leading operating system on servers, mainframe computers and supercomputers.

Linux, released under GPL license, which allows free distribution of code, has helped IT giants and startups alike start develop their own operating system. Some of these operating systems were developed to counter the runaway success of Apple’s iOS while others were developed to cash in on the vast opportunity of the touch friendly smartphone and tablet market. Most notable of them is Google’s Android project. Other notable projects under development include Tizen, Firefox OS, Ubuntu Touch, etc. Linux has quickly come grown to dominate the mobile market with Android commanding close to 80% of the market share of the world smartphone market. With a number of Linux based mobile OS set to hit the market in 2014, the market share for Linux based mobile operating systems is set to increase further. Let’s look at a few mobile operating systems which are currently in the market and in development.

Android is developed by Google and released as a free and open source operating system. Android back-end is based on the mainline Linux kernel. The front end GUI however, uses Dalvik run time for rendering the niceties. Android is the most popular smartphone and tablet operating system. As of November 2013, Android’s share of the smartphone market was 80%. Android also surpassed the iPad’s market share in Q3 2012.


A clean,free, open source version of Android with added original and third-party code. CyanogenMod offers features and options which are not found in the official version distributed by mobile vendors. CyanogenMod does not contain spyware or bloatware and contains performance and other interface enhancements. CyanogenMOD does not track installs but allows voluntary reporting. As of December 2013, CyanogenMod has recorded over 10 million active installs.


Sailfish OS
Nokia chose to go the Windows way sponsored by Microsoft and fired MeeGo developers. Sailfish OS was built by Jolla, a company started by these ex Nokia employees. It is essentially a continuation of MeeGo with whole lot of new features. The UI is touch friendly and built with QML and Qt Quick. Sailfish OS is not completely open source, the UI is proprietary. Currently there is only one smartphone running Sailfish OS. Android apps compatibility has been announced for Sailfish, which will enable most Android apps to run on Sailfish OS unaltered.


Firefox OS
Firefox OS is an open source operating system being built by Mozilla Foundation. Firefox OS has a Linux kernel and the user interface is written in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. A few phones have been launched with Firefox OS pre-installed in South American and other emerging markets. Firefox OS loaded phones are currently low end and cheaper compared to Android, iOS and Windows Phone. Tablet optimized Firefox OS was recently shown off by Mozilla. Firefox OS can be used in smart TVs as well.


Ubuntu Touch
Ubuntu Touch is the mobile version of world’s most popular free and open-source Linux based operating system, Ubuntu. Ubuntu Touch is still under heavy development and is expected to have release its first stable version in April 2014. When complete, Ubuntu Touch will run on smartphones, tablets, TVs and smart-screens. The UI of Ubuntu Touch gesture based and touch friendly and uses Qt-5 and runs on Mir display server.  Apps can be developed in QML and HTML 5. Ubuntu’s convergence theory states that applications designed for the desktop platform will run on Touch and vice versa. Ubuntu Touch is being developed by Canonical and the Ubuntu community.


After Intel’s failed MeeGo project with Nokia, a new project was started by Samsung and Intel. It was named Tizen. Tizen has roots of Nokia/Intel’s MeeGo and Samsung’s Bada mobile operating systems. Samsung is betting big on Tizen to be an alternative to Android and other touch based smartphone operating systems. Currently there are no phones running on Tizen but the coming MWC may give us a glimpse of the new Tizen phones.

Another Linux based open source operating system for smart TVs now owned by LG. Originally developed by Palm, HP acquired Palm and webOS along with it. After a disastrous debut on tablets, webOS was discontinued. HP open sourced webOS and released it as Open webOS. In 2013, LG bought webOS from HP to use it on its smart TVs.
Open WebOS
Linux based free and open source operating systems allow great deal of community involvement in the development of these operating systems. It also enables to share some common core technologies, for example, various software frameworks originally developed for Maemo and MeeGo are being used by Ubuntu Touch, Mer is being used by Sailfish OS etc. Apps built with HTML5 will work on Android, Ubuntu Touch, Tizen and Firefox OS thus reducing a great deal of work for the developers. Android apps run on Sailfish OS and with slight modifications on Ubuntu Touch. These standards set by open source operating systems make it very easy for the developers to work, with which is not possible with closed source ecosystems such as Windows Phone, Blackberry and iOS. As the operating systems mature, developing apps for these Linux based operating systems will become easier, more and more developers will start to move away from these closed source proprietary operating systems.

About Sayantan Das

Sayantan is a Sr. IT Consultant working at Srinsoft Technologies, Chennai. He has over six years of work experience with more than four years as a Linux System Administrator. He is a Linux enthusiast and a blogger. He is also a regular contributor to the Ubuntu Manual.

6 thoughts on “How Linux dominates the mobile market

  1. It’s not just mobile. While mobility has set Android/Linux on fire, old-fashioned GNU/Linux is making real progress. Several countries have huge GNU/Linux usage thanks to governmental initiatives like notebooks for students. Uruguay is over 10% share of page-views for GNU/Linux when school is in session. Venuezuela is about 7%. Even USA, home-country of M$ and Apple was over 2% for much of 2013. Only a couple of years ago, people were claiming GNU/Linux was the ~1% OS. Globally, StatCounter shows GNU/Linux grew 30% at a time when shipments of legacy PCs were down ~10%. That means GNU/Linux has not sagged as that other OS has done.

    1. Android isnt half baked. Its a full blown smartphone os with all bells and whistles. It took time about 2 years to gain momentum. It had better features from the start when compared to iOS. Google had to give it for free to drive adoption and also because it was a new market for Google . Before Android , Google was just a search engine company . Well of course it had Gmail and Gtalk but operating systems are a different ball game.

Leave a Reply