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iPhone Linux Hack: What It Means

Posted by: Olga Kharif on December 01, 2008

iPhone hackers have just managed to replace Apple’s own operating system that comes with the device with Linux software. That could be the beginning of a seismic shift for smartphone software. It opens the door for open-source operating systems to jump onto devices not built specifically for them.

Until now, few people have bothered to replace operating systems running on their smartphones, the way they already replace their Windows with Linux on PCs. Mobile operating system vendors like Microsoft grew their market shares by striking deals with handset makers and carriers to integrate their software into the carriers’ line-ups.

Perhaps that could change. The hack could potentially open the way for people to install rival operating systems, such as Google’s Android, onto the iPhone and other devices. Android can already run on Windows Mobile devices, thanks to a similar hack.

These hacks are opening the door for Android and other open-source operating systems to jump onto devices that aren’t specifically made for them. Companies like Apple and Microsoft should find this development troubling. Deals with handset makers and carriers will no longer deter those users who are determined to use Android or another flavor of Linux on any device they buy. Granted, not that many consumers are tech savvy enough to change their smartphone OS; still, that small percentage could contribute to a market share drain that some OS makers may experience if the hacks catch on.

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Reader Comments


December 2, 2008 04:15 PM

If Linux-devs can't deliver great User experience with Hardware with open expecification, do real any one believes that they gonna do this with Hardware with closed expecification? It's just fresh air, nothing else!


December 2, 2008 05:12 PM

My instincts tell me that Apple and Microsoft will simply go into a strong defensive mode to prevent this from happening. Microsoft will strike deals with hardware designers to somehow disable devices hacked with open systems.

And doesn't Apple already have a "kill switch" and an exclusive deal with a service provider? Since the Linux hack doesn't allow actual use of the phone itself, Apple might come up with a way to disable the device completely if it's hacked.

These are the reasons why I'm using a G1.


December 2, 2008 05:43 PM

ex what?

Fat Pop Do Wop

December 2, 2008 05:56 PM

In the almost 2 years I've used Linux, my user experience has been more stimulating than that delivered by M$ Windoze XP. Not to mention you can find out EXACTLY what's going on under the surface - if you want. Even a crap user experience with a Linux phone O/S would offer greater peace of mind.


December 2, 2008 05:57 PM

So what if they did put Linux on an Iphone? They can put it on any brand they like, but the Apple Store doesn't support Linux. It's all about the apps!


December 2, 2008 06:07 PM

Surely this is a fantastic opportunity for handset makers to start to offer Open phones that can run multiple operating systems. More choice for the consumer and more free software for all of us!


December 3, 2008 03:33 AM

ive never had a cell phone - but now i cant wait to access the phones wireless modem - "oh the hacking i will do, the hacking i will do"


December 3, 2008 09:03 AM

People have been putting GNU/Linux onto PDAs for the better part of the last decade. Visit, and to get an idea of just how flexible and functional free software is on small devices. I've used two of these distributions myself for the last five years on a Sharp Zaurus. Both are excellent, and GPE brought all the software available on regular desktops to my handheld. To get an idea of how many platforms GNU/Linux has been ported to, check out the ten stable architecture ports Debian has.

A greater threat to iPhone and all telco providers is whitespaces and other persistent wireless. Commercial operators like Skype have already given GNU/Linux users Dick Tracey style video phones on tiny devices. The software is trivial and Ogg Theora provides a free version anyone can use. Google's Android devices are going to rush into this space because they can deliver Google a 20% search boost, which translates rather directly into advertising and revenue boosts. Google won't lose any of that if they lose software control of their devices but users will benefit greatly from software freedom combined with spectrum freedom. To sum things up, this is the death of the last mile problem. iPhone will soon look like the 20th century monopoly encumbered device it is and all of those monopolies are toast.


December 3, 2008 01:39 PM

Can the current install run apache? iPod touch would make a neat little test server...


December 7, 2008 08:58 PM

People who write "M$ Windoze" instead of "Microsoft Windows" reek of bigotry and lack credibility, unfortunately even when they have a good point to make.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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