Change Desktop Environments On… IOS?

While Apple’s modern operating systems may seem like they exist independently of the rest of the computing world, they are actually close cousins of modern versions of Linux. The primary link between the two is that Apple’s offerings are Unix-based and even though Linux isn’t Unix in the strict sense, it’s built to be extremely Unix-like. Plenty of Linux software is POSIX-compliant, meaning it is effectively compatible with true Unix. But what can we do with that information? Well, to start, we can run Linux desktop environments on top of an iOS install on your favorite iPhone or iPad.

To be sure, we will be filing this hack in the “because you can” category. [Torrekie], the creator of this project, has plenty of builds (Google translate from Chinese) where the boundaries between things like Linux and Unix are either blurred or nonexistant. In this particular project, a jailbroken iOS device is essentially gifted a ported version of XFCE which is able to run fairly well on iOS thanks to its compatibility with Unix environments. Details on how this was accomplished are sparse without a full investigation of the source code right now, but you can head over to the repository if you are curious enough to try this for yourself. [Torrekie] does note that this will only work with iOS devices that have been jailbroken using the “unc0ver” jailbreak only though.

To be sure, the relationship between modern Apple operating systems and Linux is about as close as modern Porsches and the Volkswagen Beetle, but either way the two are close enough to get interesting and impressive mashups like this project. For now only time will tell if using XFCE on iOS will be useful for anyone, but other projects bridging the gap between Linux and Apple are sure to be more immediately fruitful.

32 thoughts on “Change Desktop Environments On… IOS?

  1. > […] , the relationship between modern Apple operating systems and Linux is about as close as modern Porsches and the Volkswagen Beetle, […]

    Apple fanboy or just a highly inappropriate comparison?

    1. One is a designer/luxury item, but is difficult to maintain because of it’s proprietary nature.

      The other is cheap, but easily maintained and modded.

      Both let you go places and may have some common heritage no matter how small.

      Not sure why it’s not apt?

      1. The original Porsche was a VW Beetle. Porsche, himself, had a hand in the Beetle. And Porsche is part of the VW/Audi auto group.

        So I’d say they share a common background and some common design. The analogy works except for the Beetle being long out of production. Where Linux and IOS are concurrent and far more similar. And I think the responder was offended at Linux being compared to the old jalopy.

        And apparently you’d be surprised at the expense of paying someone to work on an ancient Beetle. A modern VW parts bin Porsche doesn’t end up being that expensive in parts.

    2. “In the Beginning Was the Command Line” by Neal Stephenson in 1999, described the four cars dealerships at the time (1999) very well:

      Apple is a smaller dealership continues to sell sleek Euro-styled sedans and to spend a lot of money on advertising campaigns. They have had GOING OUT OF BUSINESS! signs taped up in their windows for so long that they have gotten all yellow and curly.

      Microsoft were selling a colossal station wagon (Windows 95). It had all the aesthetic appeal of a Soviet worker housing block, it leaked oil and blew gaskets, and it was an enormous success. A little later, they also came out with a hulking off-road vehicle intended for industrial users (Windows NT) which was no more beautiful than the station wagon, and only a little more reliable.

      Be, Inc. is selling fully operational Batmobiles (the BeOS). They are more beautiful and stylish even than the Euro-sedans, better designed, more technologically advanced, and at least as reliable as anything else on the market–and yet cheaper than the others.

      Linux which is right next door, and which is not a business at all. It’s a bunch of RVs, yurts, tepees, and geodesic domes set up in a field and organized by consensus. The people who live there are making tanks. These are not old-fashioned, cast-iron Soviet tanks; these are more like the M1 tanks of the U.S. Army, made of space-age materials and jammed with sophisticated technology from one end to the other. But they are better than Army tanks. They’ve been modified in such a way that they never, ever break down, are light and maneuverable enough to use on ordinary streets, and use no more fuel than a subcompact car. These tanks are being cranked out, on the spot, at a terrific pace, and a vast number of them are lined up along the edge of the road with keys in the ignition. Anyone who wants can simply climb into one and drive it away for free.

      ref: (snippet)
      ref: (full text)

      Stephenson did leave out FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD I think that QNX had a desktop product back then as well (I can understand skipping all the commercial UNIX implementations SCO, Solaris, HP-UX, AIX, IRX which were mostly server only or non-x86). To be fair there were less visible to most people, and then it would have been a crowded street filled with a lot of car dealers.

        1. Just found out that OS2 is still alive!
          eComStation was an operating system based on OS/2 Warp (last release 2.2 Beta II 2013-12-16)
          ArcaOS is an operating system based on OS/2 (last release 5.0.6 2020-08-31)

    3. Well, let’s remember the “design is how it works” philosophy.
      Mac OS focused on the user and his/her needs and was successful in providing a homogenous environment.

      Unix or Linux in particular, by contrast, is a total wild growth. Not bad per se, but a symbol for anarchy. Not even close to well integrated environment.

      That’s why I think that the analogy isn’t that off.
      A Porsche is also a VW product, like the Beetle, but more polished. However, when it matters, the rusty old “Love Bug” is much more dependable.
      – That being said, I think Herbie is more like DOS or CP/M, personality wise. ;)

      1. “… focused on the user. ”

        More like, focused on the user shelling out thousands of dollars every year because Apple cannot be bothered to support their own products past few years.

        Linux still runs on hardware 15 years old.

        So which one is better for the world and the environment?

        1. “focused on the user” is accurate.

          It’s important to remmeber though, if you are the type to come to this site you are likely not “the user” that they are focused on.

        2. Er, wot? My 10 year old imac is working fine, still in use as a main workstation. Never had a PC last that long.

          But I don’t quite get the analogy. If I want to do something on OSX, Googling how to do it on Linux finds me the answer 9 times out of 10.

          1. Sure but this is about iOS not OSX. In iOS you can’t have compilers, interpreters, emulators or anything really that you might do any sort of development or hacking with. You can’t even develop something on your desktop and run it on your iOS device unless you pay a yearly fee to their developer’s club!

            But for some reason you were talking about longevity. I’m sure the hardware in my iPad 2 would also run a Linux based tablet OS just fine with power to spare for most applications. But Apple locked it down to prevent that. They haven’t released any iOS updates for it for years now and apps are not developed for old OS versions so it’s almost a paper weight.

            No doubt Apple would like to lock their desktop OS down the same way. I suspect they will, slowly over time so as not to upset their fans too much.

    4. I think Apple products are like Porsches. Most people care about how they look and keep them clean, and take them to a professional when they need repair, and replace them when they are too old.
      Linux is like a Minneapolis-Moline farm tractor. It’s a big slow engine with wheels that can do a lot of work, it’s usually covered in dirt, and their owners do most of the repairs.

      1. Except that you need to find an exploit to pick the lock that Apple Corp has put on their porsche to prevent you from opening the hood in order to do anything like this. That sort of thing is illegal to do in the automotive industry.

          1. Exactly what I said. It would be illegal for Porsche to prevent you from modifying it. Apple does this as if it was no problem and necessary. Only now is the legislation coming to force them to let you repair the hardware. Some day.. Maybe if enough dreamers can convince them to let us repair the software too… We wont have to throw it in the trash when they decide to stop supporting it.

      1. The only “modern” Porsche is the EV. All the others are ancient tech from the distant past. Ferry Porsche would spit on his successors for clinging to his ideas well past their expiration date. What a scam, dressing up a beetle as “modern” and selling it for 6+ figures.

      1. You must live somewhere with no road salt, the heater box on beetles rusts away in months in cold climates and then you have no heat and no defroster. Worst car ever, total death trap in an accident.

        1. I mean, it doesn’t explode when rear-ended. And unlike the VW Bus there’s more between my knees and a front-end collision than a single piece of sheet metal. And it’s not a Trabant or a Yugo. So maybe fifth-worst car ever, if you’re only looking at safety standards.

  2. I did this to an iMac that I own and run Linux on. My Mackbook owning friend used it for 20 mins and didn’t realise it was Ubuntu until I showed them.

    I configured it back with Mate desktop afterwards and plugged my trusty Dell keyboard back in.

    The iMac is way more performant with Linux on it than it ever was running anything Apple and I am not missing any functionality.

    1. My Power Mac G3 B&W is still running Ubuntu. Solid as a rock for the last 15 years. Despite the 66 MHz FSB of the G3 B&W, I have a 1 GHz CPU accelerator installed in it. It’s fast at integer math but the slow bus makes it a dog. Mesa eventually got decent performance out of the ATI Rage 128 in it, but deprecated support so I’m stuck either building my own libraries or running an old version of Ubuntu. (the latter, because it is least effort).

      Thanks for the link. I might try these tricks to theme myself closer to faking OSX on this thing. While OS X 10.4 (Tiger) does boot on the thing, and even OpenGL works. But it isn’t great using software and compilers/SDKs that Apple has abandoned and seem to have zero community support. And going on the web with an old browser version is a bit dicey.

      1. Hi there! Since you mentioned the ATI Rage 128..
        That card might be the most compatible or feature-complete graphics card for Mac OS 8/9!
        The driver support OpenGL, Quick Draw 3D and RAVE.
        Do yourself a favor and don’t throw it away easily.
        Also, some Mac users are not as lucky and are stuck with a Rage iic only, which is much more inferrior to your 128.
        If you’re running Linux or Mac OS 10.4 kind of systems, a Mac flashed GF 5200 or ATI R7000 might be an upgrade path. The GF 5200 isn’t Mac OS 9 compatible, though.

  3. not sure but comments seem a bit sour? Currently my phone is the most powerful computing device i have, more cpu/ram than any desktop or laptop devices…would be nice to run generic linux on it and plugin a screen, kb, mouse…

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