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Home page > II. Pro > 4. Informatique/Computing > Jolla Sailfish, the alternative

Jolla Sailfish, the alternative

Recommendations for an improved experience with the Jolla phone

19 December 2014, by CeD

Other versions of this article:

They are unlike ;)

Choosing a Jolla smart­phone (SailfishOS) may be mo­ti­vat­ed by dif­fer­ent con­cerns. One of them and not the least is the de­sire to stay away from pro­pri­etary, closed, opaque sys­tems on top of the mar­ket. SailfishOS isn’t 100% open source, but it is large­ly (let's say 75%, see this ar­ti­cle). It dif­fers from its com­peti­tors by its raison d'être: it is not a com­mer­cial or ad­ver­tis­ing weapon. It is pro­mot­ed by a Finnish start-up found­ed by a team of former Nokians who had de­vel­oped the Maemo/Meego sys­tem, sick­ened by the Elop dis­as­ter, very un­like­ly to try to keep you un­der close surveil­lance.

The Sailfish soft­ware ecosys­tem is still far from ma­tu­ri­ty (though for­tu­nate­ly still free from most Android's un­bear­able drifts). In par­tic­u­lar, the mar­ket for high qual­i­ty, pro­fes­sion­al paid ap­pli­ca­tions [1] is em­bry­on­ic: few so­lu­tions are avail­able. In the Android en­vi­ron­ment on the other hand, there are plen­ty, from free to very ex­pen­sive, from worst to best, and it is not easy to sep­a­rate the wheat from the chaff. To com­pen­sate for the pover­ty of the na­tive cat­a­logue, Jolla in­stalls by de­fault a com­pat­i­bil­i­ty lay­er (Myriad's AlienDalvik), mak­ing their phone a 'twin-engined' one with ac­cess to the huge Android ap­pli­ca­tion mar­ket, with the ad­van­tages and risks in­volved.

The sus­tain­abil­i­ty of Jolla (the hard­ware) and Sailfish (the sys­tem) is not yet as­sured. But the vi­tal­i­ty of the com­mu­ni­ty al­lows op­ti­mism.

The Jolla smart­phone, launched in late 2013, may ap­pear to be pri­mar­i­ly de­signed for a com­mu­ni­ty of lin­ux­i­an marginal geeks. To some ex­tent, it is (after all it's a Linux ma­chine, very per­mis­sive). But things are chang­ing fast and one year later it is to be con­sid­ered as a con­ve­nient and pri­va­cy-aware de­vice, meet­ing the needs of any av­er­age user (which I am), not on­ly hack­ers (which I'm not).

If you take part in the ad­ven­ture and if your mo­ti­va­tion is pre­serv­ing your in­de­pen­dence with re­gards to dom­i­nant mar­ket play­ers, you need to fol­low some rec­om­men­da­tions that fol­low.

  • Favour native Sailfish applications, even if less sexy than their Android counterparts. The catalogue is growing quickly.
  • Accept the Android compatibility layer (AlienDalvik) anyway, with some precautions:
    • Install and use ReChild's Advanced Task Killer (ATK) or one of its equivalents. Keep it running with autokill on. This will allow you to control what your phone does by allowing it only what you decide.
    • Do not install Google services (this implies giving up the largest application store, i.e. Google Play Store). Those services are (thankfully) not installed by default, and may only be installed by a peculiar process [2]. Once installed after all, they will be always running whatever you do. They can not be turned off (even with ATK) or uninstalled with the standard procedure. They entail GTalkService which is a well-known backdoor allowing Google to remotely install/uninstall anything they (not you) decide. They will continuously transmit large amounts of data from your smartphone to various unknown destinations. They will use much of your system and battery resources.
How to get rid of them if they are installed anyway? Examine the /opt/alien/system/app folder and delete the following files if they exist: Phonesky.apk, GoogleLoginService.apk and GoogleServicesFramework.apk
    • Look elsewhere for Android apps you can not live without. Alternative sources abound (you will find them easily; some keywords to guide your search: F-Droid, Aptoide, Yandex, Amazon, SlideMe, 1Mobile). Be careful: many of them are far from irreproachable (caution is still required, specially with app stores whose apps are tampered in order to force the originating portal to sneak in the background). However they are much less intrusive and less “sticky” than the Google Play Store and its associated services. Remember that if an application, even from another source, refuses to work when Google services are not running in the background, you have to give it up: it's obviously spyware, at best for commercial or advertising purposes, at worst for even less respectable reasons. If a wanted application is only available at Google's, see here. By the way, you still should wonder about the reasons why this app is not available elsewhere. SnoopWall may tell you more on this (I'm pretty sure you'll be surprised).
    • Stop AlienDalvik service when you do not need Android. The performance of your phone will be significantly improved. This utility may help you: AlienDalvik Stop (available at OpenRepos.net).
    • Keep in mind that Android, even in an alternative flavour such as AlienDalvik, is and remains the creature of a giant advertising agency. Its logic is to monetize your consumer profile. Future developments will certainly strengthen this. As a Jolla user, your logic is different — should I say 'unlike'? —, and the Sailfish system should remain the centre.
  • Switch on GPS only exceptionally and temporarily. Allow geopositioning (by network or GPS) sparingly and wisely.
  • Monitor the activity of your phone using Crest (a system utility also available at OpenRepos.net).

At the time this ar­ti­cle goes to press, I have been us­ing a Jolla for four months. After some novice set­backs, I con­sid­er it a re­li­able and ef­fi­cient tool. I read­i­ly ad­mit that it is more ex­pen­sive than com­pa­ra­ble com­peti­tors, that its phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics are be­low the cur­rent stan­dard [3], and that jus­ti­fied crit­i­cism can be ad­dressed to Jolla re­gard­ing ecosys­tem de­vel­op­ment, strate­gic pri­or­i­ties and avail­abil­i­ty of essen­tial ac­ces­sories such as bat­ter­ies or pro­tec­tive cas­es. The com­pa­ny ap­pears to be sane, dy­nam­ic and promis­ing. However it's still frag­ile and this does not al­low fore­see­ing what will hap­pen in six months or in a year. I made a bet, bid­ding a sig­nif­i­cant amount, but ac­tu­al­ly I al­ready won: if the ad­ven­ture comes to a sud­den end, I still have a work­ing equip­ment with two bat­ter­ies and two leather cas­es, easy to use, and above all a de­vice that in­spires more trust than dis­trust. It will last at least three years (my an­cient and ven­er­a­ble E90 Communicator has lived sev­en years and still works fine).

I didn't say a word about the user in­ter­face. Pretty orig­i­nal, it is main­ly based on well thought ges­tures (though in­com­plete in my opin­ion. For ex­am­ple, one may re­gret the ab­sence of a uni­ver­sal ges­ture for con­tin­u­ous zoom­ing, or a “se­lect-copy-paste” ges­ture). The touch­screen sup­ports five con­tact points, enough to stim­u­late de­vel­op­ers' cre­ativ­i­ty. No but­tons ex­cept the pow­er switch and au­dio vol­ume con­trols (three keys that can be re­pro­grammed by soft­ware). That's fine, but not essen­tial: any­one quick­ly adapts to any er­gonomic pro­vid­ed it is con­sis­tent.


In September 2015, a ma­jor sys­tem up­date was re­leased: SailfishOS ver­sion, a pre-re­lease of Sailfish 2.0, in­tend­ed for both Jolla smart­phones and tablets.

Its re­cep­tion by the com­mu­ni­ty (cur­rent­ly on­ly smart­phone users) was far from en­thu­si­as­tic to say the least. Users pre­vi­ous­ly at­tract­ed by the in­no­va­tive Sailfish er­gonomics and user ex­pe­ri­ence were dis­ap­point­ed by this re­lease, more suit­able for tablets than for phones. Innovation was clear­ly set­back, as Jolla mis­tak­en­ly tried to en­tice users of more con­ven­tion­al sys­tems, with­out dis­ori­ent­ing them too much.

So it is ad­vis­able to stick to ver­sion un­til fur­ther no­tice.


[1] When you pay, you ac­quire a pro­duct, the trans­ac­tion is clear. When you don't pay, ob­vi­ous­ly some­one else ac­quires some­thing from you, not nec­es­sar­i­ly with your con­sent.

[2] I won't de­scribe it here: if you ab­so­lute­ly want them, it's your busi­ness.

[3] I strong­ly be­lieve that the re­al pow­er of a smart­phone is more de­pen­dent on what the user puts in­to it than on what the man­u­fac­tur­er has put in­to.

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  • Jolla Sailfish, the alternative - One year later

    19 January 2016 19:39, by CeD

    One year later, an up­date of this post will soon be nec­es­sary, in light of the cri­sis Jolla crossed in December 2015 (part­ly over now), the an­nounce­ment of sev­er­al portages of SailfishOS for other de­vices than the home-made smart­phone, and the re­lease of a more pol­ished ver­sion of the op­er­at­ing sys­tem.

    Probably after the FOSDEM in Brussels (30 and 31 January 2016) and the MWC in Barcelona (from 22 to 25 Feb. 2016).

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