I will list here why I’m moving away from Jolla’s Sailfish OS, the mobile Linux OS I praised for more than 5 years! In order to sketch the picture completely, some history:
Since FOSDEM 2019, Pine64 announced their famous PinePhone. The PinePhone is a real Mobile Linux device with Open Hardware and Open Source software. The PinePhone has only a small amount of blobs to drive the WiFi/Bluetooth chip and the modem RF stack. Even the bare bone Linux distribution running on the modem has recently been made FOSS! It’s a real competitor for the Librem5 from Purism, except that the hardware is less powerfull and that’s reflected in the price of both devices. All the OSes that are available for the PinePhone are fully FOSS, except Sailfish OS. Sailfish OS has a FOSS middleware from which Nemo Mobile profits, but the UI and Jolla apps are closed source.
I joined the Sailfish OS boat to get away from the Android/iOS closed gardens and take back my privacy. I wanted to be in control of my device, not Google or Apple.
1. Active community
They were present at FOSDEM where discussions happened in real life!
2. Running Android apps
Jolla integrated Aliendalvik into their phones. Aliendalvik allowed me to run the Android apps I cannot miss such as Waze for example. Works really nice, the older phones aren’t getting the latest version, but the Xperia XA2 and Xperia 10 have Aliendalvik with Android 8.1!
3. App development
I learned a lot about Mobile App development over these years. I developed a Tinder client (Sailfinder), an iRail client (BeRail) and maintained a Facebook webapp (Sailbook). I even used Sailfish OS in my Master’s thesis!
Besides having a really nice community, fantastic UI, FOSDEM meetings, etc. some things went wrong…
1. FOSS promises were never fulfilled
Back in 2013, when Jolla launched their Kickstarter for the first Jolla Phone, they promised to make all components FOSS. As of today (2020), the apps and UI are still closed source.
Such a situation doesn’t look good in the FOSS world and won’t help to attract FOSS developers. Fortunally, Nemo Mobile provides an fully FOSS alternative for the UI and apps.
2. Available software isn’t up-to-date
Sailfish OS still uses Qt 5.6, an ancient Qt version which isn’t supported anymore by the Qt Company. The biggest problem is the license of newer Qt versions. Jolla needs to pay for the Qt Company if it wants to use Qt in their closed source components since the newer Qt versions are licensed under GPLv3 instead of GPLv2. This makes it hard to port existing software. Nemo Mobile doesn’t have the license problem and provides the latest LTS version of Qt (5.12) in its repos.
The same argument holds for the Browser, another problem for Sailfish OS. The current Browser engine is based on Gecko 38 and will be upgraded soon to Gecko 52. However, the upgraded engine is still from 2017 and light years behind the current state of the Web.
3. Priorities changed
Over the past years, Jolla had to shift their priorities to survive. Jolla shifted to a B2B strategy and that seems to be succesful to survive. However, the community is left out, the community they need for making Sailfish OS a success.
The latest change is the closure of the public Mer bugtracker, the closure of the Sailfish OS build service (OBS) and moving the Mer components to Github while it’s not clear why these actions are needed to merge Mer into the Sailfish OS project. This is one of the biggest problems Jolla had over all these years: communication with the community.
Not really I had an amazing time on the Jolla boat and in the Sailfish OS community, but the time has come to move on.
This means that from now on my Sailfish OS apps such as Sailbook, Sailfinder, BeRail are not maintained anymore. I thank the Sailfish OS community and Jolla for these awesome years and I hope we will cross paths again in the future!