Lineage OS


Article from Issue 196/2017

CyanogenMod is dead. Long live Lineage.

Q I'm going to take a guess from the name that this is some ancient operating system that's been around since before Tux was an egg resting on his father's feet in the frozen wasteland of Antarctica.

A I'm afraid that you're not even remotely close. Lineage OS is a new distro that's split from CyanogenMod following disagreements about the company's future.

Q Hang on, what's this Cyano-thingy you're talking about?

A CyanogenMod. It's basically a distribution of the Android OS with all the closed-source Google bits removed. It's available for a vast range of phones, tablets, and other devices that manufacturers claim are smart – or at least it was available, but we'll get on to that in a bit. While it was around, it was a great place to get the latest Android version for your phone even if the original device maker had decided not to update the software. It was also a great way to get an Android version minus the Google bits, so it was much closer to being a truly open source device (although not 100%, for that you needed Replicant), and you could be a bit more confident that your phone wasn't riddled with spyware.

Q Ah, CyanogenMod sounds like it was awesome! What happened to it?

A CyanogenMod started out as a community project lead by Steve Kondik (also known as Cyanogen). The project grew from a small one-man operation to a large open source project that took in contributions from lots of people and supported a bewildering array of devices.

In 2013, Kondik launched Cyanogen Inc. to commercialize the project. The core distro remained open source and free to use, but they worked with manufacturers to develop special versions of the OS for some phones, most notably the OnePlus One, but also some others.

We won't go into the various rumors of what happened internally at Cyanogen Inc., but suffice it to say that it didn't become the company that Kondik wanted it to be, and he left the company in November 2016. Around the same time, Cyanogen Inc. announced that it was shutting down the infrastructure around the CyanogenMod open source project. This infrastructure includes the wiki, developer's collaboration tools, and image hosting.

Q What, the company just deleted everything that the community had spent years building?

A Yes, but don't despair. The Internet Archive (see Figure 1) exists for situations exactly like this. All the information for users on the wiki [1] and the images [2] are still available online, so regardless of what happens with Lineage OS, that will all still be available.

Figure 1: The Internet Archive is one of the great triumphs of the Internet age and exists to ensure important information isn't easily destroyed.

Q Right. I think I'm up to speed on CyanogenMod now. Can we get on to Lineage OS?

A Yep! While Cyanogen Inc. can delete the data created by the community, they can't delete its spirit. All the people who made the original CyanogenMod are still around and still interested in making awesome mobile operating systems. Lineage OS is a continuation of CyanogenMod by many of the same developers, including Kondik – Cyanogen himself.

Q Hang on, if Steve Kondik is working on Lineage OS, and Steve is the original Cyanogen, and the company is discontinuing their open source efforts, why not just keep the name CyanogenMod and avoid any confusion?

A A couple of reasons. First, Cyanogen Inc. owns the name CyanogenMod, so it's up to them whether or not to let the new project use the name. Second, there's now quite a bit of bad will around the name, so the new project wants to start afresh. We can't say for sure which of these is the primary reason, but together they mean that the new project has had to come up with a new name.

Actually, here at Linux Voice, we were never that fond of the name CyanogenMod. It sounded weird and overly geeky to people outside the tech community. Lineage OS, on the other hand, is at least a word people can understand and spell, and the OS at the end of the name makes it sufficiently unique that web searches bring up the correct result, so we're all for it.

Q That sounds great. Cyanogen Inc. has shut down CyanogenMod, but nothing's gone away except the name.

A Well, not quite. CyanogenMod was the open source community project. In addition to this, Cyanogen Inc. provided some services that aren't necessary for the basics of a mobile operating system but are nice additions, for example, the Cyanogen app store (C-Apps). These have now been shut down. There are alternatives (including the F-Droid open source app store and of course Google's services), but this particular part of Cyanogen is unlikely to come to Lineage OS, at least in the near future.

Q What's happening with Cyanogen Inc. now that the community's left?

A Most of the staff have gone, many through redundancies, but the company is continuing, at least for the time being. The new strategy is to leverage the technology they developed and work with phone manufacturers to improve the Android experience on their handsets. In other words, they're no longer developing a whole mobile OS.

Q Is Lineage OS ready to use yet?

A Not really. If you're comfortable building an OS for your device, then you may be able to get something working from the source code [3], but this is more involved than a simple ./configure && make, so for most people it's best to wait for official builds to be ready. At least, that was the status at the time of writing. This is a fast-changing situation, so by the time you read this, it might be possible to get pre-built images. Check the Lineage OS website [4] for the latest information (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: In this fast-changing situation, the Lineage OS website is the place to find the latest information.

Q You mentioned Replicant earlier. What's that and how does it fit in with CyanogenMod and Lineage OS?

A CyanogenMod was, and Lineage OS will be, an open source OS in the same way Ubuntu, Fedora, openSUSE, and most Linux distributions are. That means they contain almost all open source software, but there are a few bits of precompiled software (known as blobs) that are closed source. Typically, these are device drivers. Use one of these systems, and you're using 99% open source, which is fine for many people, but some people are willing to sacrifice some functionality to run completely open source software. For these people, there are desktop distributions like Trisquel. Replicant is a project based on CyanogenMod that includes only completely open source software. This means that it can't run on as many devices (since there aren't open source drivers for all hardware pieces), but when it does run, it's more free. We strongly suspect that future versions of Replicant will be based on Lineage OS, but that remains to be seen.

Q CyanogenMod sounds like it was a huge project, and one that's hugely important to the general free software community. With its commercial sponsor dropping support, what can we in the community do to help it keep going?

A That's very community minded of you! With a project the size of Lineage OS, the infrastructure costs can get quite large. At the time of writing, the project doesn't have the legal setup necessary to take monetary donations. (Although, again, this could have changed by the time you read this, so head to their website [4] to get the latest information.) However, they do need servers. If you can spare a machine with a decent Internet connection, visit the donation page [5] to see if you can help.

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