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Recently, a popular website ran an editorial about how Android was turning into the new Linux, and just how awful a thing that was.  The author was half right -- Android is turning out to be the new Linux.  If he had stopped there, he and I would see eye-to-eye, and this rebuttal would have never happened.  He also would have gotten far fewer pageviews.  He goes on to discuss patents and other issues that don't really explain his position before he comes to the meat of his issue -- fragmentation.  You know, that buzzword that's ever so popular in any hit-piece about Android.  I'm here to tell you what I think about fragmentation, Linux, Android, and how it all fits together after the break.

What is Linux?

Regardless of popular thought, Linux is nothing more than a kernel.  There is no operating system for computers, embedded devices, or otherwise, that "is Linux."  Until you add a way for data to go in and out, it's nothing.  What people call Linux actually is a collective group of different operating systems that use the Linux kernel.  Most people are familiar with Ubuntu.  It's very easy to use, more popular than you probably know, and it's a great choice for anyone who wants to run an alternative and free operating system.  But it's not Linux.  Neither are any of the other great operating systems that run on the Linux kernel -- Debian, Slackware, Mint, CentOS, Red Hat Enterprise, Meego, webOS, Android -- the list goes on and on.  Linux "fragmentation" is because people try to lump thousands of different operating systems into one.  We've come along way since Bell Lab's Unix OS, and it's forked a million different ways, but only one is MacOS.  The same reasoning should be applied to Linux based operating systems.

What is Android?

Android is the same, yet different.  Different in the respect that there actually is an operating system named Android, and the same because there are also operating systems named Sense, Touchwiz, Blur, and so on.  These are no more Android than iOS is free BSD (BSD is another Unix-like operating system, with a more liberal license, that was used as the base for Apple's products).  Like iOS, OEM versions of an Android based OS are closed, and we're dependent on the OEM to provide updates to the operating system, using new features from the latest version of Android.

"Linux" desktop operating systems are the same -- when new versions of the Linux kernel come out, the maintainers of the different flavors make the kernel available for consumers.  The real difference is that the kernel, as well as the majority of software on the Linux based systems is open-source, and users can freely (and easily) build it themselves.  I know this is not likely to be a popular idea for many of you, but there are only a few phones that run pure Android -- the rest run something else, that was based on Android.  That doesn't mean they aren't as good -- on the contrary, they offer features and software that isn't available on regular old Android, and really do bring a lot of great things to the table.  If you use a "Linux" based desktop, you know exactly what I'm talking about.  If you don't, you should try it -- you might just like it.

Why Android is the new Linux

Here's where you ask, "Now what the hell does this have to do with Android turning into the new Linux?"  Because Android based operating systems offer the same thing that Linux based ones do -- choice.

Many folks use Ubuntu because they want to use Linux.  Maybe they are a bit technical and need the freedom to do things the other closed OS choices don't offer, but don't really feel like doing everything "the hard way" like they would with other versions.  Isn't it great that they have that choice?

Or maybe you want to have a computer that just works every time you sit down at it, and you want the OS to be easy to install and update -- cue Ubuntu again.

Or maybe you have to provide computers for students and don't have the money to buy a bunch of expensive Windows licenses. Where to turn? You guessed it -- Ubuntu.

It goes further, maybe you're a total nerd who grew up fooling with Unix and want to administer everything by hand and have complete control?  Load Slackware on your computer, grab a million cups of coffee, and learn the "man" command.  Need something that's going to offer well over 99 percent uptime?  That's called Debian.  Even spec-geeks have a Linux based OS that can be fine tuned to the exact hardware they are running.  It's called Gentoo.

Compare this to Android.  Do you want a robust operating system that does what you expect it to, every time you want to do it?  HTC and Samsung have you covered.  Motorola was working on taking this a step further, but it's possible recent events may have thrown a wrench in that plan.  LG is on the right track; the Optimus UI has come along way.

What if you want to tinker and set everything just as you like it?  Get a stock Android phone, or take it a step further and get a Nexus device and learn to build Android yourself.  And if you love some specs, get one of the new powerhouses from any of the OEM's, some CyanogenMod, and hack the living daylights out of it until you either break it, or it can run Crysis. Finally, some folks need an inexpensive option on an affordable plan -- that's where Android is taking over from Nokia, in places where a smartphone is the only way to communicate with the "outside" world.  We spend too much time worrying if our phone is going to get Gingerbread, when we should be more concerned if it's going to get Sense 3.1, or Touchwiz 4 -- those are operating systems in their own right, and updates usually offer better and more features than an Android release.  (I wish the Android launcher allowed me to customize the launcher bar, or had shortcuts on the lock screen.) 

So yes, Android is the new Linux (even if it is just another OS running on Linux).  It offers a choice for everyone, and people who just don't understand try to knock it for this.  I like having a choice, and I like knowing you have one as well. 

 

Reader comments

Editorial: Android is the new Linux -- and that's a great thing

52 Comments

Great post! I thought the other article you referenced was crap because the view that was expressed was just ignorant.

I think the article he referenced was very good actually. Jerry knows his stuff, their is no doubt about that, but I feel he might be one of the "nerds that expected Linux based OS's to take down Microsoft in the 80's" (this isn't a shot at you Jerry this is a reference back to something the author of the referenced article mentioned). All that Jerry is saying is correct, Android does give a lot of choice, but the vast vast vast majority of consumers want something that just works. And if using Android just means a giant mess of patent issues will come your way, and Windows Phone continues to improve, the "free" Android OS will seem awfully unappealing to OEM's. That's the issue, it's not that Android isn't a great operating system, but OEM's don't use it because of some noble stance on how open mobile operating systems should or shouldn't be, they just want to make money.

Saying sense blur etc are oses is like saying gnome or kde is an OS. The user interface is a user interface Android is the OS. I don't use a different OS if I choose to login with blackbox on ubuntu. The experience is different but that is all.

I know, after I read that part about UI modifications being an Operating System I found it very hard to read the rest of the article. It's like sitting on an operating table with a doctor holding a scalpel over you who says "okay we're going to start by trimming your wings". I don't know who decided to make this guy the resident Linux expert but I think they need to go back to the drawing board.

I'm in agreement. A UI shouldn't be mistaken for an OS. That said, I think the current crop of UIs are far too woven into the OS, making it difficult to avoid their influence on the user experience, even with third party replacement apps, and making it take that much longer for manufacturers to release updates.

I was scratching my head when I read that...

I thought Ubuntu is a type of Linux, and Gnome and KDE are UI's on top of it, just like Android is the OS with Sense, Blur and TouchWiz as the UI on top.

??

You are pretty much correct. Linux is technically just a kernel, bu to 99% of people, "Linux" is an Operating System- a bundle of the compiled kernel, GNU tools and libraries, X11 (windowing), a desktop environment (KDE/Gnome/Enlightenment/Ice/etc), a slew of admin and support utilities, and a ton of included FOSS applications. Those in the know call the above a "Linux Distro", and there a hundreds. I use Mandriva/Mageia on my home desktop, Ubuntu on my netbook, and Fedora on my latop, RHEL (Red Hat) on my servers at work, etc, etc.

http://distrowatch.org

While I agree that a custom vendor UI doesn't necessarily constitute a new flavor of Android, it certainly has an impact on the device as a whole and I'd argue that's a negative thing. When I shop for a WP7 phone, an iPhone or a Blackberry, I can generally assume that I'll be getting a standardized platform experience.

By that I mean each phone will look, feel and operate exactly as all other devices on that platform would. As such, I can focus mainly on the features of the hardware itself and purchase the device that best meets my needs. This would be no different than shopping for a Windows laptop. All that really matters is the hardware because every Windows laptop runs Windows.

But not every Android phone runs an unadulterated form of Android. In fact, most don't. Each vendor provides its own user interface complete with custom, proprietary widgets. So now I can't just focus on whether I like that HTC phone better than the Samsung, I've got to consider if Sense is better than TouchWiz and, if not, are there reasonable alternatives?

To me, that's ridiculous. Above all else, the user interface defines the look and feel of a platform and it should be maintained from one device to another. I'm not saying you shouldn't have the ability to change that interface (we all love choice), but just that a proprietary one shouldn't be forced upon me just because I'm buying a certain brand.

Android/Linux are for people that like the God given right of choice. You don't seem to like choice, so go work with IOS, I hear they have "JOBS" for a new "COOK"...... :-)

You are quite definitely missing the whole point here: choice. You say "we all love choice" but you're basically complaining that you have to make one. I don't like TouchWiz. I've played with it, I think it looks cheesy (although it does have its nice features), so I don't buy Samsung. Don't even get me started on MotoBlur. For me, I think Sense is the best. I'm sure you could throw a rock in a room full of Android guys and have a good chance of hitting someone (probably more than one) who would disagree with me on that, but *that* is the whole point.

You say when you buy a laptop, it's all about the hardware. That's true, but it doesn't translate here. When you buy and Android phone, you have to do the research for the specs, but also make sure that you like the way the interface works. The software *itself* becomes a feature of the device. That's why the manufacturers make the changes: to set themselves apart from each other. And, at the end of the day, you can actually download and use a completely different UI (launchers/homescreens/whatever name you like) on your Android phone that came with Sense/TouchWiz/Motoblur/etc. You can replace just about anything. And, if you're really adventurous, you can root and install some home-brew version of Android to see what new features someone else came up with.

It's the greatest (and sometimes worst) thing about Android. It's the definition of choice itself. If you don't want to be bothered to think about which device you might like best, then by all means go buy an iPhone and live in your little glass box. Just don't complain that you really wish you had more options, because you do.

The OEM modifications go much deeper than just the UI. Comparing it to different linux distros may have been a stretch, but they are still closer to those than just a themed UI.

I agree that it is more than just the ui that is different, and distros is closer than just different window managers. When the manufacturer creates their own ui they are often making major changes to the core android framework. a good example of this is sense and touch wiz's implimentation of Bluetooth.

I was thinking the same thing. Also, saying Linux is only the kernel is half right and half wrong. The combination of the gnu tools and the Linux kernel are what make up a base Linux os otherwise known as GNU/Linux. Everything else that the distro creators do doesn't make it their own os, it just makes it their customized version. Sense, touchwiz, etc are NOT os' anymore than Light step is an os for windows. They are only custom ui's that in my opinion completely crappify the android experience. Granted, android has light years to go before it is actually polished enough for my liking. Honeycomb was a step in the right direction though.

I'm sorry, but no they aren't. They are a custom UI with some custom applications and Widgets tacked on. The core os largely remains unchanged which is why home screen replacements work. If the android OS wasn't the same underneath the hideous custom UI then quite a few things would cease to function. Android is the os, and sense, touchwiz, etc are custom shells. You can live in a delusional world where HTC and Samsung have created their own os' if you want, but that just isn't the case.

They use different intents to open the alarm because they use different alarm apps, which I'm sure you already know. If I replace the calculator application on my son's Windows XP machine, does that mean he's no longer running Windows XP? Of course not.

ADW is no more a UI than Sense is an OS. And no; that doesn't mean I agree with you. ADW and similar apps are merely replacement launchers. Do such apps change the look or feel when you venture into your wireless settings, account settings, or the settings screens for any other apps? No. They are just an alternate means of organizing and launching other apps. Sense changes the look and feel well beyond the launcher.

Then how would you explain that Sense was developed to run on top of Android and also on top of Windows Mobile? Is Windows Mobile an OS, or not? HTC Sense is indeed a GUI that interfaces to an underlaying OS.

Even if in addition to the GUI, HTC must include a couple of specific device drivers and recompile the kernel, this doesn't make their software package a specific OS.

Also, aren't you somewhat overlooking all what Linux does as the core part of the OS. To me Android mainly is some middle-ware on top of Linux, a bunch of libraries and drivers, plus an API.
It's not more "special" than the Linux in some embedded device or in supercomputers, which also need kernel tweaking, special libraries and drivers, but which are still called Linux.

Or should we call it Android/Linux, like in GNU/Linux's case:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNU/Linux_naming_controversy

What's different with Android is the size of potential user base (everybody has or wants a smartphone)... and the Market application...

Anyway, I'm a happy Galaxy S2 user :-)

I could see both sides of that. The learning curve I'd say is steeper on ROM flashing but once you have it its easier.

To be fair sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't and that greatly depends on what kind of phone you have and how hard it's locked down. If you had a perfectly open phone to flash and a perfect PC to install Linux on then they'd be damn near the same, but still I wouldn't say flashing a ROM is that much easier. To install Linux all you do is download an image, put it on a physical medium, boot, then install after a few clicks and info boxes. To do the same with a phone there are a couple extra steps, still easy but not so sure it's that much quicker / easier.

Not really. I find installing Linux much, much easier than rooting Android phones, making the backups, messing with ROM's, worrying about never getting updates again, voiding my warranty, etc.

Linux really is incredibly easy to install nowadays :)

No. That is a HORRIBLE comparison. MS-Windows is/was single vendor, closed source, non-free, patent-encumbered, proprietary code that violated much of the known standards of the day.

Great post Jerry. As an Android(Bionic), webOS(Touchpad), and Ubuntu(desktop) user, I appreciate this well informed post.

I've been saying this for a while.

It's always fun to point out to the ignorant who tell me that Linux is dead, that their DVR, television, phone (if it's Android) and heck, maybe even their car and refrigerator are likely running Linux. Also that any time they order a book from Amazon or run a search on Google they're using Linux.

I think the same will happen with Android. Of course it will be in your phone, but it will also be in your car's dash, in your Amazon tablet, your television remote control, etc. It will be "Android Inside" and that will be a good thing.

Linux is not and never has been "dead", even if they were just pointing to only desktops as an example. Adoption rate has been slow, but increasing, year after year. On servers, it is insanely popular- probably THE most popular OS ever, and has been for a very long time now. It runs most of what we think of as the Internet.

But you are correct that there is an ever-increasing number of "embedded" Linux uses (Android is one, WebOS was another, MeeGo, TiVo, NAS boxes, MP3 players, etc, etc, etc).

Actually, no. Linux is the kernel like you said, but everything that runs on top of it is Linux. They are not necessarily their own OSs strictly speaking. The OS is the kernel. So, everything you listed above is Linux. Android modifies more of the kernel than your vanilla Desktop Linux distro, and so it could arguably be labeled it's own OS but it's still Linux. Furthermore, Sense, TouchWiz, etc are not OSs. They probably more closely resemble a desktop environment like Gnome or KDE. And so, Android is Linux. Linux is not Android. Get the relationships straight.

There is one big problem with the original article:

The author is a "health policy analyst", which means his knowledge of a smartphone's OS internals is likely not very well. The fact that GigaOM ran that knowing their author lacks real credibility is disappointing.

I also noticed that the author of the first article is a "health policy analyst". And then I read comments to it.
Reader: "Which fanboys thought Linux was going to over take Microsoft in the 80s? Last I checked Linux didn’t even exist until 1991."
Author: "Typo"
And after that I've seen enough. I am very sorry that that article received so much more pageviews than it deserved.

To the above poster that thought installing Linux is harder than flashing a Tom I would like to show you my puppy dog usb drive. I plug it in, turn on the computer and bam, linux

ok so , in other words Android is still way to fragmentized

and the only way to get it to run the way YOU want ... is to Install random custom ROMS and to change the OEM/RTM Interface......

and if u keep it stock your screwed..... nice... great OS *thumbs down *

you would think all the Newbie’s coming to Smartphone’s would stick AWAY from android like they did for Linux(considering they don’t know how to tweak)

i know that for some its easy but 99% of people with droids dont know how to do half the things they can do ....

@selfcreation, WRONG. and you are CLUELESS as many others are, trying to make ambiguous statements to fool who wants to be fooled. What does it mean to have the phone "run the way YOU want," entering an email address and a password, changing a wallpaper, changing the ringtone, that's very simple to do in android, if you can't, GOOGLE it, and stop thinking others have the limitations you have.

And what do you mean by someone being screwed by using a stock rom, since when is that the fault of GOOGLE or Android, unless you don't really understand the topic being discussed.

What is your definition of a newbie, IMO there is the person who wants to tinker but does not have a clue how to and then there is the person who doesn't want to tinker and will just buy the phone as is and use it, as is.....

The argument that 99% of the people with "Android" phones don't know what to do is the statement of a person who is either unwilling or afraid to learn, unless you thought that people are to be born with the knowledge that is necessary. For all the different Operating Systems, someone had to learn, someone had to tinker until they found the way, or are you only capable of visiting a website from your mobile device and clicking a button.

I know nothing about coding, yet I was able to learn a few things just from wanting to learn about the different things I could do with Android, learning new things would never be negative in my book, but some, in fact most of the population would rather sit back and have everything done for them, Couch Potato style.

So there are really two types, the people willing to learn, and the ones who don't want/need to, the latter would buy the phone and use it as is because they don't need anything more. The former would be like myself, enjoying the freedom that this Android offers, while learning some new things along the way, and if the phone manufacturer doesn't see it profitable to upgrade my device, then I would do it myself,

When you can tell me of another mobile OS that allows me to have an HTC Magic that is three years old running 2.3.5 and my Samsung Galaxy S 2 running the same version of Android, reply to this post, otherwise, *two thumbs up*

Yeah, I didn't think the original writer had a clear picture of Linux. I like most of what the man with the uber-beard said. Linux may mean more to most people, but it is really the kernel. The bits and pieces put on top of it to actually allow for communication and data transmission etc. (lots of stuff I barely understand) were bits of code developed by the GNU folks etc. etc. Easy enough to get a basic rundown on the history of Linux if a writer wanted to do a bit of research.

For years I tinkered with Linux on my old laptops and now I tinker with Android on my aging phone and hope to continue to do so for many years.

I know back in the days when it seemed (to fanboys like me anyways) that Desktop Linux had a chance of taking hold of more of the market (during the Vista years)it was also thought that much of the problem with Linux was the "fragmentation" or the myriad of distros using different file systems and package managers etc.

Some thought that if EVERYONE concentrated on just 1 master distro (like Ubuntu for example) that it could really be competitive, but the confusing landscape damned it to "failure" as far as capturing market share. Others, however, thought that the beauty of Linux was the CHOICE and VARIETY. This is what we have with Android. This is what I love. I don't care if it's #1 for years to come, but it will always be my choice till a more open (viable) option presents itself.

The responses to this article are more about kissing Jerry's ass and sucking up to him, than about the article itself. LMAO Bunch of idiots trying to earn popularity points with a blog's author. HAHAHAHAHA

Well said. One problem with android now is that there some android products that I as a regular consumer don't need to see let them be but don't put them in mainstream outlets. I would say that Android is becoming Linux but one advantage of Linux is that I can just about run any app on any of the different desktop versions and I can see Android getting there.

I am for running crysis on mobile devices any day :)

imagine that you were on the bus and explosions coming everywhere from android users fragging each other on that bus XD. LAN party comes mobile :P

I was wondering... I would like to learn to build Android myself, be able to port android to hardware. Where I should start?

Thanks in advance,

JC

PD.
I lol'ed at "hack the living daylights out of it until you either break it, or it can run Crysis".

Um, Android IS Linux. I don't mean that as a comparison between the two, or a statement about how each fits into the OS ecosystem. I mean that, literally, Android is a mobile version of Linux in the same way that ubuntu is a desktop version of Linux.

Android is to Linux as .NET is to Windows. Atleast there are quite a few similarities. Android is not an OS, its a runtime and a series of applications built on that runtime. These applications violate tons of patents but because they are not sold by Google, there can be no lawsuit. However, the OEMs can be sued, which is why they are paying out billions to Microsoft. Google is a pathetic waste of space. And bing is now the best search engine. No need for Google at all. Scrap that gangster style band of thieves as Steve Jobs desired in his last will and testament. Pathetic!