Samsung’s Support for Linux on DeX Fizzles

Samsung has called quits on its effort to provide a full Linux desktop platform for Android.

In an email to beta testers last week, Samsung said it would not support its Linux on DeX beta program for future operating system and device releases.

Samsung’s announcement coincides with Google’s release of the Android 10 OS update and its rollout on Samsung phones. Neither company will provide Linux on DeX support.

Linux on DeX allows users to connect smartphones or tablets to monitors to simulate a full Linux desktop computing experience. Samsung initially offered DeX as a docking station for phones. It then allowed users to connect their Android phones to monitors via a USB-C cable.

Samsung did not provide details on what led to the decision to dump DeX support but an advisory informed users that DeX will not be supported in Android 10 beta. Samsung phone users will not be able to perform a version rollback to Android Pie.

“Given the company’s reported money woes related to problems in its memory division, I expect the decision to drop Linux on DeX was motivated by financial concerns,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

Short-Lived Beta

The name “DeX” is a contraction of “Desktop eXperience.” The Linux on DeX beta program was functional, but it apparently did not progress as Samsung hoped. The company never released a stable software version before pulling the plug on DeX’s development.

Only select Samsung phones were part of the beta program. First included were Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S8+ devices. DeX later became available for Galaxy S9 and S10 phones, as well as Galaxy Note phones.

A device running DeX functioned as a docking station. Users placed the phone in the docking cradle to connect a keyboard, mouse and monitor. The DeX docking station allowed users to run their phone’s operating system as an Android personal computer.

Samsung and Canonical last year partnered on an app that allowed select Galaxy phones to run a full Linux desktop on top of Android. The company started a private beta for the Linux on DeX project last November. The private beta allowed Linux to open in select Galaxy devices in DeX mode.

“While Linux on DeX was an intriguing solution, the number of customers affected by the project’s cancellation is likely fairly modest,” King told LinuxInsider.

A Goal Beyond Reach?

Of greater importance is why Samsung retreated from its goal, according to Thomas Hatch, CTO of SaltStack.

“The idea of having a single device to use as a laptop and as a phone is not new. It has been touted as a Holy Grail by many in the phone and laptop communities. It also promises that phone manufacturers could dip into the laptop market,” he told LinuxInsider.

The problems developers need to overcome to achieve this, though, are not trivial, Hatch said. Being able to merge uses across these chasms has long been a challenge.

“Look at how difficult it was to make desktop environments that span desktops and tablets,” he pointed out. “It also forces the question, hasn’t Google already solved this with cloud services?”

What we need to remember about technology is that good tech satisfies real human needs and alleviates real human pain. That leads to two different paths, Hatch suggested.

Is the real solution to not have to carry around a laptop? Or is it to have all data unified across devices?

“I think that Samsung stepping back here means that they see the problem that DeX is trying to solve as the unification of assets rather than not having to carry a laptop,” Hatch observed.

Alternatives to Ponder

Samsung phone users and owners of other phone models interested in running Linux on their Android phones can explore several options, Pund-IT’s King suggested.

Maru is a context-aware, lightweight open operating system that unites mobile and desktop computing. Maru is based on Debian Linux but is not compatible with all Android phone models. Maru automatically detects when an external display is available and connects keyboard and mouse via Bluetooth.

Termux is an Android terminal emulator and Linux environment application that works directly with no rooting or setup required. The Android app installs a minimal Linux base system automatically. You can add more packages using the APT package manager. A terminal emulator is a program that provides a text-based interface to the shell.

UserLand is an open source Android app that allows you to run several Linux distributions like Ubuntu, Debian and Kali without rooting your device.

Linux Deploy is an Android app that provides relatively quick and easy installation of the GNU/Linux operating system on an Android device. The application requires a rooted phone.

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.Email Jack.

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