Linux

All your Android are belong to us

Jack Wallen takes a stand on whether Android is a true Linux distribution. Are Jack's arguments compelling enough to change your mind? Read on and find out.

Amazon is about to release its own tablet. This tablet, as you would expect, will run the Android operating system. This tablet, is expected to be the major competition for the iPad. Why? The Amazon tablet will most likely serve as the next-gen Kindle. Like the iPad, the Amazon tablet will do much more than be an ereader. And with the $250 (rumored) price-point, it looks like Amazon could do for the tablets what it did for ereaders when the Kindle first released.

The news of this new "iPad Killer" tablet, running the Android platform, naturally has the whole of the Linux community excited. Why? Because Linux will be in the hands of more and more users.

Or will it?

This has been one of those questions that has been bandied back and forth for quite some time now. Is Android Linux? We all know, very well, that Android was based on the Linux kernel. But many argue that there's just not enough of the Linux kernel within Android to call it Linux.

I wanted a more definitive answer -- without having to comb through code. In my research, the two most telling bits of fact are:

  • The Android kernel is a fork of the Linux kernel.
  • Android does not contain the GNU tools or libraries.

Okay, so the Android platform uses a fork of the Linux kernel that does not contain the GNU tools. Instead, Android has a bunch of Google software (in place of GNU and other usual suspects found in Linux distributions). But most importantly, Android is a fork of Linux.

What this does is point back to the old argument: What is Linux? The fact is, Linux is nothing more than a kernel with which to run an environment upon. Without the overlaying layers, the Linux kernel is fairly useless (just like an application is useless without an OS to run on.)

  • Ubuntu is not Linux.
  • Fedora is not Linux.

They both use the Linux kernel. But they are also both counted as "Linux."

Android is in the same situation -- the only difference between it and the above to "official" Linux distributions is that Android uses a modified (by Google) Linux kernel. Those modifications are done in order to make the hardware work. Simple. With that logic in place (and the fact that, yes, you can download the source for Android) I would have to draw the conclusion that:

Android should be considered a distribution of Linux (albeit a highly modified one).

And what this highly modified distribution of Linux does is bring Linux to the mobile world in ways the unmodified Linux distribution cannot (yet). But it's really only a matter of time before each and every distribution of Linux is running on that precious tablet hardware (I will be doing an article on running Ubuntu in a chrooted environment on a Thrive tablet soon).

I know there are many out there that would disagree with my conclusion. Why? Because without the GNU tools Linux is not Linux. Wrong. Without the GNU tools, Linux is not GNU/Linux. Remember, Linux is as open source as you can get. That means it can be...wait for it...modified. And that is exactly what Google has done with the Linux that lives underneath that wonderful Android UI -- modified it.

Which side of the fence do you come down on? And why? If you are one of those that thinks Android is a whole other platform, tell us why.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

68 comments
MRBUDLITE
MRBUDLITE

We of the Android / Linux world should get our collective heads together, and figure out where / how apple and microsoft have "Accidentally Copied" our beloved Linux/ BSD ( Apple) CODE into their own. And get away with paying no royalties.. Normally, the guy yelling foul the most, is himself guilty of the same. We HAVE to stop the Evil Axis of apple/microsoft willy-nilly creating mischief to make up for their inability to penetrate the market ( ms ) OR head off a serious competitor (apfle)! By the way. It is just WRONG to know that(1) apfle can steal and admit it to the world. (2) Lie & commit perjury to the German courts and THEN create grief for the Android community. As for microsoft, gate's parents were / are big-time atty's in Washington State, so we should know what HIS thing is. But WAIT! microsoft too, stole from apple who sued microsoft for stealing, ( get this) what they ( apple ) stole from Xerox. Jobs ADMITS to shamelessly STEALING XEROX' IP, After all "They ( Xerox) were "Just copyheds" ( he laughs in this intyerview ) Listen here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nK7TQVFSA1Y Listen carefully how he tacitly admits APPLE'S STEALING XEROX GUI actually SAVED APPLE from NON-RELEVANCE. ( going out of business )

Rastkara
Rastkara

Unless Android uses the entire Linux kernel, It cant be said that it is Linux. It is a modified version of Linux.

hadleyv
hadleyv

Is that because we are more intelligent than others or because we are scared that no one is going to listen....? Android is Linux...

rwindsor
rwindsor

I doubt we'll ever know unless it goes to court, that there then is a judgement and that the findings are made public. Pigs may well fly !!!

Stajilov
Stajilov

Okay, even if Android is open-source, what can you with it? Compile it for your own tablet and build your own Android with Black Jack and Hookers?

lsasadoorian
lsasadoorian

This is nonsense. Many authors have stated several thousand times about all the cell phones that run linux. Well, that isn't the complete version of linux is it? All that code on an itty-bitty phone? Then why make any sort of a distinction here. Every form of linux is different and this is too. It is linux, let it go at that. Now bring out a subject worth arguing and yelling about.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

We don't ask if Bodhi or Xubuntu are relatives of Ubuntu just because of a different software loadout and UI. We don't question if Damn Small and Puppy Linux are Linux like Redhat. They are because they run the Linux kernel. Android is Linux for the same reason, though it really should take advantage of more of the kernel's power rather than rely on the high level Java sandbox.

longtex
longtex

... fired up an IMSAI or an ALTAIR and loaded MSBASIC from paper tape, you'd be LYFAO at all this babble. Your computers - be they desktop, laptop, tablet, or embedded in some device - are either tools, or toys... your choice. Arguing about what's under the hood of your tool or toy is pointless: it does what you want it to, or it does not. If it does not, you may choose to learn how to hack it, or not. If not, get in line, if you can find one. If so, check the lines for potential supporters/customers - just be sure you're talking tools and toys.

realvarezm
realvarezm

The protomammal were the first dinosaur to show mammal caracterisitichs, 40 million of years later the lion and you share that same core of evolution from this animal, it is the same for Linux. In 30 years since its creation has more than 20 variants that I know of and it will get more. Only Google uses a modified and unique version of Linux for their servers in the datacenters they own, so that would count has Linux subespecie per say. Like I???ve said it before Linux is changing the IT world and it will be a key help for the evolution of human race too. Making software more accessible to poor people and given them a tool to improve their life and future. Long live Linux! ???

KavishMultiShoppe
KavishMultiShoppe

"All your Android are belong to us" Seriously, does this pass a grammar test?

cpcca
cpcca

Interesting article but the reason I clicked on the link was to ask:What does this statement mean? All your Android are belong to us...????

naviathan
naviathan

Linux is what it is because of it's freedom. The Ubuntu, Red Hat and all the other major Distro teams modify every aspect of the OS, including the kernel, to ensure it fits their view of what their OS should be. Android is simply another distro of linux purpose built for mobile hardware. The only place I'll draw the line on this is with Honey Comb. Google has yet to release the source for it and it's becoming a problem.

pbasehore
pbasehore

Android is as much Linux as MacOS is BSD. They don't look alike, they don't act alike (at least, not without help), and many people don't see them as the same system. Nevertheless, they are the same system.

bblackmoor
bblackmoor

Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? That depends on how you define "fruit" and "vegetable". How they are most often prepared and eaten? What part of the plant they come from? Ultimately,I think it's a pointless question.

seanferd
seanferd

And without Linux GNU would still be trying to build HURD.* So what? If the question is, "Is Android GNU/Linux", state the question as such in the first place. Don't move the (pointless) goalposts at the end of the article. The Linux kernel is in all sorts of stuff, sometimes using a minimal toolchain, other times probably using something different. So, it it about Linux, or GNU? *GNU could change its name to GINAOSAA. (GNU is not an operating system at all.) Until it fully creates its own full stack, it isn't, and HURD is still not ready. Half the problem is probably being in thrall to Stallman.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Every Linux is a modified version of Linux. No Linux is all the Linux there is, you know.

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

Linux is open source, so if it is the kernel for Android (as it is), who would benefit by challenging it? Android remains Android and Linux remains Linux. Where's the rub????

seanferd
seanferd

You can even run it on a PC, but I don't know why you would, except to check out the interface before buying an Android device. It is generic rather than vendor-specific Android, though.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

I think Google ought to be trusted on that.

seanferd
seanferd

Black jack, I'm sure, is already available. The hookers - on the web, if you want to use a computer to find them. Or skip it all and just stick to the ride. Otherwise, I'm not sure what you are asking/saying here.

DNSB
DNSB

Does loading TDL BASIC from a paper tape count? Ever so much fun pulling it through the tape reader by hand and then refolding it.

Systems Guy
Systems Guy

Bart Simpson can write better than this.

daboochmeister
daboochmeister

Just fyi. It's the UI an Android-specific APIs (which are licensed under the Apache Software License v2) which aren't yet released.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I know Apple does in deed have FOSS peroperties that it's kept under open licenses (CUPS for example) but are they contributing low leve osX improvements back into the parent BSD kernel? Last I heard, Google was not getting many Android kernel modifications accepted back into the parent kernel source either but maybe that's changed. osX kernel/userland is a one-way fork of one of the BSD kernels (BSDs differentiate more by kernel than userland) just as Android's kernel is a one-way fork of the Linux kernel it seems.

dryflies
dryflies

It is an interesting subject and IMO android is Linux. Google is one place the Not invented here syndrome does not seem to reach.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

means "Gina knows how to" in Finnish. Gina osaa juosta - Gina can run This parainformation brought to you by an overworked translator.

dcolbert
dcolbert

The Linux/FOSS community has been moving the goalpost so often, for so long, in dealing with arguments from the Microsoft/Windows community, that it has become second nature and now the Linux/FOSS community can't even find a common ground to agree with among itself. That alone should be a sign that the definitions are so vague as to be meaningless. For all intents and purposes, if something is built on the Linux kernel, I think it should be considered a LINUX system. This applies to my GPS unit, my IBM XIV San, my Debian box, and Android. They're all built on a foundation of Linux, so Linux is what they are. I just don't see what is so hard about that. The problem comes when FOSS proponents want to cherry-pick definitions to position themselves in a certain place for inevitable arguments. It is all about FOSS politics, not about practical reality. And that is one of the top things that keeps Linux hung up and unable to really leverage itself. It is a top reason why Linux has a certain negative connotation with anyone outside of the FOSS community. I've been saying this for years, and this is a great case study of the inevitable outcome of what I've claimed for so long. The FOSS/Linux community is its own worst enemy.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I think they are refering to the relationship between parent and child. While Google contributes huge amounts to other development efforts and probably to the kernel itself, the kernel used under Android apears to be a one-way relationship from Kernel.org to Android without much code submission in return. By contrast, what folks are claiming as real "Linux" based distributions are ones where the kernel.org to distribution relationship is more equal; the distro takes the source to make it's kernel with whatever additions it may make however the distro also gives source additions and modifications back to the parent kernel.org. In terms of structure, Android is very divergent from a general purpose distrobution also, it's more of a palm tree with one-off kernel at the roots, minimal trunk stack on top and lush leafy java'ish runtime environment at the distant top. User's must hack the device to fill in the missing userland between kernel and runtime environment. By contrast, traditional distributions provide a more complete stack including all the bits between kernel and app sandbox. Even knoppix, Backtrack and GParted LiveCD are far closer to complete distributions than Android. Actualy, OPHCrack LiveCd which is really only meant to run the one program still provides a complete kernel, userland and desktop environment with OPHCrack resting happily on top.

Systems Guy
Systems Guy

Which, what, only about a dozen TR readers (figuratively speaking) even know about. I like tongue-in-check humor but make it readable.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

It's a variation of a line from a video game, a line written by someone whose native language was not English: "All your base are belong to us". Apparently the original line has exceeded its fifteen minutes of fame, and has begun to fall back into well-deserved obscurity. Hopefully it will soon be joined by "I can haz cheezburger" and Rick Astley.

naviathan
naviathan

Well at least that much of it we have, but it's rather pointless without the UI.

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

As long as my wife thinks it's a vegetable, I don't have to eat her broccoli!

seanferd
seanferd

How about amoeba colonies. Fruit again? Legislating facts is fun!

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

I daren't ask what they'd have done about the "attorney's pear", the avocado.

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

...and a big bottle of Skyy. You are very tired.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

"The Linux/FOSS community has been moving the goalpost so often, for so long, in dealing with arguments from the Microsoft/Windows community, that it has become second nature and now the Linux/FOSS community" Oh? the Windows and osX fan base never "moves teh goal posts" does it? There are also cases where the person claiming that goal posts have been moved didn't understand the discussion in the first place. And that is also not uniqe to any single fan base. But, by all means.. continue premoting the idea that it's all just "FOSS politics".

tbmay
tbmay

Honestly. I agree with your post. And I'm a long time Unix/Linux admin and I'm paid to work on *nix servers. The thing is though, you'd have to include things like VMWare ESX as "Linux" if you go by your definition. Most people don't. The point that it's a Kernel is to say, it's an underpinning to be built on. It's tough to put ESXi in the same sentence as, say a smartphone running Android. Same kernel...different purposes...different OS. From my own point of view, I don't care what propeller heads in the basement think. The very fact that they want ANY software to "dominate the world" gives me some reason to question just how rational they are.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I thought that was the first place I actually heard about it which lead back to the original game translation error.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I've seen it on Tshirts etc.

Slayer_
Slayer_

"You have no chance to survive make your time" "Somebody set us up the bomb" The actual game, Zero Wing, it actually not that bad either, a typical side scrolling shooter.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I'm glad to see it getting the lack of recognition it always deserved.

rmerchberger
rmerchberger

Once you clean up the grammar, the joke is gone. It's rather like a budding sculptor saying "I'm going to recreate the Venus de Milo *exactly*... but put arms on her." Once you make a change that drastic, it's just not the same. I'm just sayin'... "Merch"

naviathan
naviathan

All the hype that went along with the "All your base are belong to us". I couldn't tell you for the life of me what video game it was from, but the music and video remixes that came out of it were internet sensations for almost 10 years. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fvTxv46ano

pgit
pgit

What is it with the broccoli? My wife would have us eat broccoli every day if I didn't do any of the shopping or cooking.

pgit
pgit

You'd hope so, or vegetable, lest PETA be all over the antibiotic manufacturers for unfair and cruel treatment... "save the amoebas! Penicillin is MURDER!!!"

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

Nobody uses straight petroleum, the products are all from the same distillation process, drawn off at different condensation temperatures. They are recombined in different proportions and other chemicals added to produce the final products: Kerosene, gasoline, propane et c. In Linux, layers of code and UI are added to the Kernel to produce a workable operating system. The "basic ingredient" is seldom altered. The result should be called "Linux-based", not "Linux".

tbmay
tbmay

Donovan seems to though. And I'm sure he's not the only one.

seanferd
seanferd

A fistful of morons keep repeating this. Just because you listen to it doesn't make this a defining characteristic of some community.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"The thing is though, you'd have to include things like VMWare ESX as "Linux" if you go by your definition. Most people don't." Why don't they? ESX is Linux; VMware doesn't make any secret of it. "Same kernel...different purposes...different OS." I think of it like petroleum products in cars, airplanes, freight trains; different distillations, different purposes, but the basic starting ingredient unites them.

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