If you’re anything like me, your Google News cards have started to feature a new word: Sailfish. Which prompts the obvious question: What is Sailfish OS? And why would I want it?
I’ll take the easy question first. Sailfish is a Linux-based mobile operating system designed to run on mainstream phones. So if you’re unhappy with Google hoovering up all your data, you can root your phone and install Sailfish OS instead.
It has three potential audiences. First, techies who don’t like the dominance of Apple and Google and want an independent alternative.
Second, corporates who don’t like the dominance of Apple and Google and want an independent alternative.
And third, governments who don’t like the dominance of Apple and Google and want an independent alternative.
You may have noticed a link there.
The key to its popularity – among its admittedly techie niche – is that it’s open-source software, in the same way that Android once was. That means any member of the community can contribute code to the project, to fix problems, add new features or to port it so that the OS will work on different phones.
You aren’t totally leaving the world of Android if you choose to give Sailfish a try. Many apps are still compatible with Sailfish OS, and you can access them via the Jolla store installed with Sailfish OS and other app stores (such as Amazon). Note that the Google Play Store isn’t an option.
It also promises a “magical” user experience based on swipes rather than gestures. So you swipe from the side to bring up the main menu, for instance, rather than pressing a home button.
What you shouldn’t expect is 100% stability. Judging from comments from Jolla itself and the forums, running a Sailfish OS phone is like running a PC on a beta version of Windows. Not for the faint-hearted.
Will Sailfish work on your phone?
The reason “Sailfish” started appearing in my news feed is that Sony has licensed a specific version of the Sailfish OS – Sailfish X – to work with its Xperia X phones.
The bad news is that it won’t be free. You can buy the OS for around £50 from 27 September, with Jolla (the organisation behind Sailfish) aiming to have a downloadable image ready by 11 October.
You don’t have to wear open-toed sandals to do it either. On its blog, Jolla says “you should be tech savvy and have a PC with Linux operating system to get through the process” of installing the OS, but goes on to promise that it will “provide good instructions”.
Sony isn’t the first to officially license Sailfish. For example, the first security-focused Turing Phone ran Sailfish OS (although it’s since reverted to Android), while Russian firm INOI announced the R7 phone running Sailfish at this year’s Mobile World Congress.
However, if you’re interested in Sailfish then your best bet is to check out the list of ports on Wikipedia and dig out the details of how to install it.