​KDE is partnering with Purism to create a Linux smartphone

Want a free-software smartphone? KDE and Purism have started a crowdfunding campaign to build one.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Most people are happy to use Android smartphones. Others love their Apple iPhones. But there's some folks who really want a free-software smartphone without a trace of proprietary code or firmware. For these folks, Purism and KDE are partnering to create the Purism Librem 5 smartphone.

The Librem 5 is meant to be a secure smartphone with privacy protection by default. Its creators plan to do this by free and open-source software with a GNU/Linux operating system. This is likely to be based on Purist's PureOS, a Debian Linux-based operating system. If you believe as Purism does that this will "create an open development utopia, rather than the walled gardens from all other phone providers," than you may want to check this out.

Originally, Purism was going to use GNOME for its interface, but it's not designed for smartphones. KDE's Plasma Mobile, a version of the KDE desktop, is designed for phones.

Plasma Mobile already works on some off-the-shelf smartphones. But most smartphones include hardware that requires proprietary software to work. This clashes with KDE's principles of freedom and openness. It also makes building difficult, since many hardware details are proprietary, thus preventing full access to the components.

"Building a Free Software and privacy-focused smartphone has been a dream of the KDE community for a long time. We created Plasma to not just run on desktops and laptops, but for the whole spectrum of devices," said Lydia Pintscher, president of KDE e.V, in a statement. "Partnering with Purism will allow us to ready Plasma Mobile for the real world and integrate it seamlessly with a commercial device for the first time. The Librem 5 will make Plasma Mobile shine the way it deserves."

"KDE has created an evolved, completely free platform in Plasma Mobile," said Todd Weaver, CEO of Purism. "We feel that Plasma Mobile will become a serious contender that may break the current duopoly and bring a full-featured, fully free/libre and open-source mobile operating system to the market. We look forward to trying out Plasma Mobile on our test hardware and working with KDE's community."

That sounds good, but Purism has so far raised only $300,000 of its $1.5 million goal. In addition, smartphone operating system substitutes to Android and Apple iOS have had a terrible track record. Of the top six alternative mobile OSes I looked at in 2014 -- Blackberry OS, Sailfish, Ubuntu Mobile, Firefox OS, Tizen, and Windows Phone -- all of them are either dead or barely have a pulse.

Like it or not, it has become a two mobile OS world. We'll see if KDE and Purism can break through.

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