Sxmo Brings Suckless Philosophy to Mobile
One of the aspects of computing that I lament most is the current state of the mobile smart phone market. Nearly all cell phones are made to limit the user’s capabilities and freedoms. Most phones are designed to be replaced later, and restrict the user with an operating system that limits what the user can do with the computer they’ve just bought. Pine64’s Pinephone and Purism’s Librem 5 are examples of some products that are designed with extensibility or freedom in mind.
Whenever I hear discussion about one of these products, I hear a phrase that rings similarly to
“It’s not ready yet,”
“I’ll consider it when there’s more polish,” or
“It needs more time to be usable as a daily driver.”
I can say, at least, with my experience with Pine64’s Pinephone, that using a Pinephone as a day-to-day device is definitely possible, right now. While I haven’t tried many of the interfaces available for the Pinephone yet, I can say without a doubt that my favorite is Sxmo: Simple X Mobile. I’ve done some work with the project last year, but I’ve just now gotten back to giving it a try after letting my Pinephone collect dust for a few months, and the improvements made in my absense prompted me to write this post.
Sxmo is built on top of PostmarketOS, and exists as a collection of programs to build an interface that truly follows the Unix and suckless philosophies. Sxmo takes GNU, suckless utilities, and the tools on-hand to create a sleek, working environment. The fact that it’s made up of common GNU utilities and suckless software makes it extremely user friendly to those already versed in their usage. For example, window managment is done with a modified dwm, and most of the utilities that are custom-made for the environment are shell scripts that take advantage of the GNU coreutils.
Because of this, it’s very easy to say, open an SSH server on the device, or set up a file-sharing job, since OpenSSH and rsync already exist here. This also makes the source code of the included utilities easy to read, understand, and modify. If I were to attempt some of these things on a stock Android installation, they would become much more difficult and at times seemingly impossible. I’m finally able to treat my mobile device as the computer it is, and I’m able to extend it for any purpose with the freedom I’m given. If you have a Pinephone on-hand, or are considering the benefits of having one, I recommend this environment to enjoy along with the other liberties you’d be gaining from these devices, like removable batteries and network kill-switches.
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