Planning to Buy a Linux-compatible Mobile Device?

From Packt Publishing

Most devices these days will run on your Linux distribution. Still for every device that's supported there are a dozen that aren't. If you are wondering whether the device you are planning to buy can work with Linux, head over to ( The website has a comprehensive list of devices that are supported on Linux. You'll find reports on Laptops, PDA's, mobile phones, graphics cards, PCMICA cards, internal modems, infrared chips, and several other hardware that people have got working on a Linux distribution. If you are a Linux user planning to buy a device, you cannot afford to miss is run by Werner Heuser, who has 20 years of experience with UNIX and has been a Linux user since the availability of kernel v2.0. With a background in server and network administration, Heuser didn't let his very basic programming skills, hinder his contribution to the Linux community. He is well-known as the author of the very popular Linux-Infrared-HOWTO and the Linux-Mobile Guide. In this discussion I enquire Heuser about the evolution of TuxMobil and its importance in the hardware buying decision.

Mayank Sharma: Hello Werner. Let's begin with a recap on the origins of TuxMobil.

Werner Heuser: When I bought my first laptop and installed Linux on it, I made an installation report available online almost ten years ago in March 1997. Some features of my HP OmniBook 800 were not supported on Linux. Trying to get the IrDA port to work, I missed documentation about infrared support for Linux and started to write my first HOWTO. The Linux-Infrared-HOWTO has been published by The Linux Documentation Project ( During the next few months I installed Linux on some other laptops and discovered even more lack of documentation, so I started the Linux-Laptop-HOWTO. It turned out that portable devices like laptops, PDAs, mobile phones, and portable media players have much in common. For example, they often feature wireless connectivity like Infrared, BlueTooth, and Wireless LAN. So I turned the Linux-Laptop-HOWTO into the Linux-Mobile-Guide (also available at TLDP). The Linux-Mobile-Guide gives a detailed overview about Linux on mobile computer devices as well as connectivity issues with portable devices without our favorite operating system. Over the years I stumbled over much more stuff related to Linux on mobile devices. I finally decided to put it all together under a dedicated domain. That's how was born.

MS: Interesting. So how has the site grown since it first went online?

WH: TuxMobil is still growing. I maintain the site daily and add new content as well as check the old one. Also I write a daily newsletter "TuxMobil News" (, which is available as a RSS feed. Currently more than 6,000 links to Linux laptop and notebook installation guides are listed ( More than 300 links to PDA compatibility guides (, more than 400 guides to mobile phone connectivity ( and more than 100 portable media players ( compatibility guides. I expect to reach 10,000 laptop installation reports next year. Many installation and compatibility reports are available in different languages ( ) though no languages from India yet.

MS: That's a lot of content. So how does TuxMobil help me as a buyer?

WH: Before buying a laptop or notebook, handheld or PDA, mobile phone or portable media player, you should first check for compatibility issues. If you want to get a device with Linux pre-installed there is a list of retailers around the world ( and for laptops there is a survey of laptops which are currently available on the market (

MS: But how do ensure the accuracy of the information?

WH: It takes a lot of time, so much so, that it has become a fulltime job. I follow every submitted link to an installation or compatibility report. And I read these documents fully. Sometimes I even give advice on how to improve the documentation. Once a year I check all the links with 'linkchecker' ( For certain accessories the output of Linux commands is required. For example an entry in the Linux and PCMCIA cards survey ( requires the output of the command 'pccardctl ident' (earlier 'cardctl ident') otherwise I reject the entry. And I improve by discussing with others. I give talks about Linux and mobile devices around Europe in English and German. And during these events I usually have a TuxMobil booth where people can get advice for their mobile gadgets. You can learn much this way, I always wonder how many aspects about Linux and mobile devices I still don't know. Currently I am preparing a new talk "Theft Protection for Linux Laptops", which still gives me new insights into the topics which I have being studying for the past ten years.

MS: Why do you think is finding a Linux compatible device an issue? Can something be done (by the manufacturers and distributions) to improve support?

WH: First of all, it's difficult to get a laptop without Microsoft-Tax. Some minor brands are offering laptops without pre-installed Microsoft operating systems, but often these companies don't survive. In the rare cases where major brands offer laptops without Microsoft-Tax, these devices are not much cheaper than with pre-installed Microsoft operating system. I have encountered cases where these machines were even more expensive. Secondly, people buying a new laptop with the intention of installing Linux on it, might be a little apprehensive. Someone has to be the first to do an installation and write an installation report. If companies would like to support Linux, they could either test Linux on their laptops themselves or give some machines to the Linux community before launching them in the market. On the bright side, all major Linux distributions are aware of the special issues with Linux on laptops. Some even have a dedicated task force to support Linux on laptops (

MS: Since you have been working with devices for so long, what trends have you been noticing with respect to Linux support on mobile devices? Are some hardware vendors more Linux-friendly than others?

WH: The Linux-based Zaurus PDAs made by Sharp have been in the market for many years. During 2005 some smartphones with pre-installed Linux have emerged. I suppose that PDAs will be replaced by smartphones soon and many of these smartphones will come with Linux. On a sidenote, the iPhone announced by Steve Jobs a few days ago, will come with Mac OSX which is just another UNIX operating system. Like I said earlier, some companies sometimes offer Linux pre-installed on their laptops and notebooks. But their Linux support is usually poor. In some cases you even have to install an obscure Linux distribution from an enclosed DVD. Drivers for internal modems and graphics chips are binary only still. Problems with suspend modes are often unsolved. Some peripherals like SD/MMC card readers and fingerprint readers may even come unsupported. If there are drivers for Linux available they often don't support every feature, e.g. graphics cards don't work in 3D mode or an external projector doesn't work; WLAN cards don't support monitor mode.

MS: Coming back to TuxMobil, how do you support the site, since all the information is available for free?

WH: When I created the project which is now TuxMobil I found out really soon that I needed some sponsoring to get hardware. For example, I required a second infrared device besides my laptop to write the Linux-Infrared-HOWTO. So I asked a great bunch of companies for sponsorship, but without any success. Finally, in May 2000, I decided to start Xtops.DE ( to sponsor At Xtops.DE I sell laptops and PDAs with Linux pre-installed all over Europe. In 2005 I did get some sponsorship from other companies. Not much, but enough to give some hardware support to Linux developers creating drivers and tools for portable devices like PDAs. With the goodies I have got, I launched the TuxMobil GNU/Linux Award 2005 ( I am confident of having the award in 2007 as well. My addiction to portable computers have led me to launch ( and (, where I help people repair, upgrade and customize laptops and mobile phones. If I can say something to your readers, I would love to link to their Linux laptop, mobile phone, PDA or portable media player guide.

MS: Sure thing Werner. Thanks for the interview.