How is Mobile Linux different from Desktop Linux?
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How is Mobile Linux different from Desktop Linux?

Next year may be “the year of the Linux operating system for desktop”, but the mobile operating systems will not sit still and wait. They represent the fastest development of the Linux kernel, providing a “living source” for most mobile devices. But how can the same kernel work on both mobile and desktop systems? After all, Android doesn’t take desktop operating systems seriously. The basic rules remain the same, but there are significant differences between desktop and mobile operating systems.

What is Mobile Linux?

What is Mobile Linux?

Mobile Linux (Linux operating system for mobile devices) is any mobile operating system based on the Linux kernel, first created by Linux Torvalds in the 1990s. The kernel is the heart of the operating system, like the foundations of a building. It holds the rest of the computer system, as well as controlling input and output operations.

Just like on the desktop, there are many Linux distributions for mobile devices. Android is the most popular and known option, although it may have moved beyond the original philosophy of Linux. Android is the leading mobile operating system in the world and it is based on the Linux kernel. The Linux philosophy is better maintained by Replicant, a FOSS arm of Android, emphasizing free and secure.

Other Linux-based mobile operating systems also exist. The most popular distributions include Linux kernel builds like PureOS, Ubuntu Touch (currently supported by the community by UBports) and postmarketOS, as well as Android ports like Replicant, LineageOS and Plasma.

Of course, it should be noted that the Linux operating system for desktop (or Desktop Linux for short) can be installed on nearly any mobile device. However, that is not what the article will discuss here. This article will describe the Linux distributions built specifically for mobile devices.

Licensing and security architecture

Mobile operating systems have different methods to ensure user privacy. Although most Linux-based mobile operating systems include some means for applications to communicate with each other, it is rare for these applications to have access to devices outside their protected sandbox. . Android includes detailed control over various device permissions, such as writing to a local drive or communicating over a data connection.

Android includes detailed control of the device's various permissions

Desktop operating systems rarely include this level of control over permissions, especially without an easy-to-understand user interface. Although Linux for desktop includes common Unix file rights, the permissions are usually limited to reading, writing and executing. On the other hand, mobile operating systems provide dozens of permissions that can be requested from users.

Although each distribution uses its own precise system, most operating systems provide a high degree of control over which applications can do what. Apps are rarely allowed to have complete control of the device and are limited to the activities they can perform, even when authorized.

Users are also limited in the data they can edit, although those restrictions can be changed after root access. Root access and admin rights, available by default on the desktop, are much harder to access and require device modifications to gain root access.

Flexibility of equipment and hardware

In general, mobile operating systems do not need to be as flexible as desktop operating systems. While a desktop computer can literally have infinite input and output configurations, mobile devices usually only apply a single configuration (the configuration they come with when being manufactured). .

Therefore, many software packages on Linux exist to support lots of input, output and storage devices that can be deleted. Few file formats, as well as standard connectivity are supported. Only input packages and outputs that are really needed are included in the device. The distribution is built with only what is needed for the integrated deployment and pays very little attention to the user’s after-sales connectivity options.

Today, the ability to export via USB-Type C or wireless cables exists on high-end devices, but this has only become a feature expected in recent years. Although mobile operating systems become more powerful with each release, in general, mobile operating systems are less flexible than desktop operating systems.

You might think that the article missed the most obvious difference – the interface of the devices – but that obvious difference does not necessarily determine how the operating system works inside. The real difference lies beneath the operating system.

The Linux mobile operating system is heavily customized for the device and use is implemented, while Linux distributions for desktops have more generic packages. Despite these differences, the security and free of open source software is maintained in most Linux-based mobile operating systems, just like on the desktop.


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