The Fairphone 2, Free Software and alternative operating systems

The Fairphone 2 is made by a certified B-Corporation based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.  The Fairphone 2 is probably the world’s fairest and greenest piece of advanced consumer electronics. Here is why the Fairphone should matter to anyone interested in Free Software.

Table of Content:
Is the Fairphone 2 the freest phone available?
The Sailfish OS / Fairphone collaboration
Firefox OS on the Fairphone 2
Ubuntu Touch

The Fairphone 2 is a bet for both free hardware and software.

Fairphone’s commitment to Free Software

The Fairphone’s best known focus are on conflict-free minerals, repairability and fair manufacturing. Interestingly enough, the company behind the Fairphone 2 also has a strong policy in favor of Free Software:

Our software strategy focuses on openness, transparency and ownership with which we aim to achieve greater product longevity. We’re using open source methods to help us achieve our goals. This includes striving to make our operating system (OS) source code and development environment available for anyone to use, review, modify and improve. We are also in discussions with organizations that build alternative operating systems to give our users more choice.1

The Fairphone, Free Software and alternative OSes like Firefox OS, Tizen, etc.

Is the Fairphone 2 the freest phone available?

The Fairphone 2 comes with Android 5.1 “Lollipop” and includes the Google Mobile Services (GMS) by default. The GMS are rather controversial (and non-free), but some sources 2 mention that an Android version without GMS will be released by Fairphone, which would definitely make the Fairphone 2 one of the freest and most open phones available.

The company behind the Fairphone has decided to “release the complete build environment for Fairphone OS, which contains the full open source code, all the tools and the binary blobs that will allow users to build their own Fairphone OS.3

Unlike most other Android devices, unlocking (rooting) the Fairphone does not void the phone’s warranty – the phone actually comes rooted: superuser access is built into the OS.

The Fairphone 2 and Libre Software


The Sailfish OS / Fairphone collaboration

Sailfish OS is one of the most promising alternative operating system for mobile devices. It is based on Nokias defunct MeeGo project and is being developed by Jolla Ltd. and the Sailfish OS community. Unfortunately, only the OS core is open source (based on the Mer Project), while the user interface is proprietary software owned by Jolla. Sailfish OS’ biggest strength is the ability to run Android apps.

Sailfish OS Logo - The Fairphone 2 will hopefully run Sailfish OS one day.

On October 22, 2015, Olivier Hebert, the CTO of Fairphone, announced collaborating with Jolla to support the porting of Sailfish OS to the Fairphone 2. One month later, Antti Saarnio, the chairman of Jolla, announced that the company « had to make the difficult decision to temporarily lay-off most of our people and apply for debt restructuring ».

On December 18, Antti Saarnio announced that Jolla was financially stable again after having completed a new financing round. It is still unclear how deeply the Sailfish OS port to the Fairphone 2 will be impacted: Saarino estimates Jolla will only be able to bring back half of circa 100 employees it had before the investment crunch and subsequent layoffs.

Sailfish OS key figures

Source model and license status: free software core OS (Mer) / proprietary UI (owned by Jolla) and other proprietary components. Check out the official graph showing the Sailfish OS structure (at the bottom of the page).
Google Play Store compatibility: yes
Devices with pre-installed Sailfish OS: 2 smartphones, 1 tablet
Sailfish OS port to the Fairphone 2: started, maybe in trouble.

Firefox OS on the Fairphone 2

Until December of 2015, it didn’t seems unlikely that the Fairphone 2 would be able to run Firefox OS at some point the future. The Fairphone 2 would have been the Firefox OS device with the highest specifications available on the market. On beginning of December, 2015, Mozilla announced that they would “stop offering Firefox OS smartphones through carrier channels“, de facto putting an end to Firefox OS on phones as a whole.

Firefox OS and the Fairphone 2

It is still possible to get a glimpse at Firefox OS on the Fairphone 2 or any other Android device through the Firefox OS 2.5 Developer Preview (aka Firefox OS launcher), an experimental app that lets you use the Firefox OS UI (user interface) on your Android phone or tablet. It is not available on the Play Store, but free to download as an .apk file on the official website of the project.

The Fairphone 2 doesn’t run Firefox OS, and there is no official or community project planning to make this happen.

Firefox OS key figures

Source model: open source (Firefox OS on the Mozilla Developer Network)
License status: free software (Mozilla Public License 2)
Google Play Store compatibility: no
Devices with pre-installed Firefox OS: 17 smartphones, 1 TV
Firefox OS port to the Fairphone 2: not planned.


Tizen is a Linux-based OS targeting a wide range of devices including smartphones, tablets, TVs, cars, smartwatches… It roots back to the LiMo Project which was merged with Samsung’s Bada platform in 2013. Tizen is a project within the Linux Foundation and is supported by Samsung, Intel, Huawei, Panasonic, as well as many other prominent tech companies.

The Fairphone 2 and Free Software: Tizen

There is only two commercial phones worldwide running Tizen: Samsung’s Z1 and Z3, which are only available in India. The higher specced Z3 costs 8,399 Indian Rupees (about $125 / €119). There are currently no plans to port Tizen to the Fairphone 2.

Tizen key figures

Source model: open source OS, closed-source SDK
License status: free software OS, freeware SDK
Google Play Store compatibility: yes
Devices with pre-installed Tizen OS: 2 smartphones, 1 smartwatch
Tizen OS port to the Fairphone 2: not planned.

Ubuntu Touch

Ubuntu Touch (also known as Ubuntu for devices or Ubuntu Phone) is a mobile version of the Ubuntu Linux distribution developed by Canonical and the Ubuntu community. Ubuntu’s most exciting feature and advantage over other alternative operating systems is convergence. Convergence (Windows 10 folks call their implementation of convergence Continuum) is a feature that lets you plug an Ubuntu Touch phone into an external monitor, with keyboard and mouse (or a dock) and get a full Ubuntu OS desktop powered by the phone.

Currently there are only two available devices running Ubuntu, both by a small Spanish company called bq (Wikipedia). A third device, the Meizu MX4 Ubuntu Edition, appears to be sold out.


Fairphone 2 and alternative mobile OSes - Ubuntu Touch screenshot

Ubuntu Touch key figures

Source model: open source
License status: free software
Google Play Store compatibility: no
Devices with pre-installed Ubuntu Touch: 2 smartphones
Ubuntu Touch port to the Fairphone 2: not planned.

Other mobile operating systems

Other mobile OS (Replicant, CyanogenMod) are not supported for the moment.

More resources:

Looking for an open operating system at Mobile World Congress 2015
Joe Mier, Online Communications Manager at Fairphone, about his visit at the Mobile World Congress and the search for alternative OSes for the Fairphone 2

Opening up Fairphone to the community: Open source Fairphone 2
Kees Jongenburger, Software Developer at Fairphone, about opening the Fairphone’s OS code.


Please leave a comment below if you have any experience or information on running Firefox OS, Sailfish OS, Ubuntu Touch, Tizen or other alternative operating systems on the Fairphone 2!

  1. Source: Fairphone Fact Sheet, page 6 (.pdf)
  2. Source: (in German)
  3. Source: “Opening up Fairphone to the community: Open source Fairphone 2” on he Fairphone’s official Website
Posted in Allgemein.


  1. “the phone actually comes rooted: superuser access is built into the OS” that is not true for the FP2.

    • Well, yes, but it’s really easy to activate root. You simply have to tap a certain point in the settings for like ten times to turn on the dev mode. When in dev mode, another section with advanced options is activated in the settings, were you now can allow root.

      It’s really easy. I’m not a power user, but I did it on my fairphone 🙂

Post a comment