Maru OS Brings Debian to Your Phone

Have you ever had the suspicion that your smartphone wasn't quite pulling its weight? New Android phones ship with more processing power than a laptop had a few years ago, but the most taxing thing we use them for is Candy Crush.

Maybe these phones are so smart because they avoid doing real work? Well, that's about to change.

Maru OS, a hybrid operating system combining Linux and Android, has just come out of private beta. You can download it and take it for a spin today—if you have a Nexus 5.

Maru OS is an interesting project that aims to turn your Android smartphone into a "context-sensitive device". When you plug it in to a monitor, it boots a Debian-based desktop distro. Meanwhile, Android is still running on the phone. As soon as you unplug it, the desktop state is stored. When you plug the device back in to the screen, the desktop state restores in about five seconds.

Currently, Maru works only on Google's Nexus 5. Now that the project has been made open source, the original developers hope to see it reach other platforms soon. You can use any Android-compatible Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and you can plug it in to any HDMI screen.

The Android component is an up-to-date version of Android Lollipop, without bloatware, which means faster performance. So the Android side of the experience is pretty nifty.

But, what about the Debian desktop? The performance is a little slower than one would hope, which to be expected since the Nexus 5 is past its prime.

Nevertheless, it's a neat idea, and it's still the early days for Maru. Right now, your desktop or laptop has nothing to fear, but who knows, maybe the next release will make them obsolete!

Clearly, the fact that Maru can run only on one specific handset is a major obstacle. Hopefully, this will be addressed in future updates. Maru could develop into a very useful tool in the future, especially if you spend much time traveling—being able to do serious work on a pocket-sized device would be very useful.

One feature I'd like to see in future releases is tighter integration between the phone OS and the desktop environment. Right now, both environments can access the phone's storage and networking features, but there is a sharp division between the Android environment and Debian. Being able to synchronize data across the divide would be useful. Motorola achieved something similar back in 2011 with its Webtop software. But, as I mentioned, it's still the early days for the new OS. Right now, I'm impressed by the core functionality.

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