Christopher Price is the Founding Editor of PhoneNews.com. Today, he leads the team building iConsole.tv - a new kind of Android™ device. He still likes to pontificate... a lot. You can visit his personal blog at ChristopherPrice.net.

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38 responses to “Five Common Myths About Linux and Android (Updated)”

  1. V

    Regarding 5:

    If you use Ubuntu or Debian, you can add:

    deb http://dl.google.com/linux/deb/ testing non-free

    to your /etc/apt/sources.list

    This will enable you to install Google apps for linux (Picasa, Google Earth etc.,) seamlessly.

    ~V

  2. Mustang46L

    Well, I think Google gave what they promised. They promised an open source phone, and they made it open source. Now it is up to the developers to either figure out a way to install applications of their own or use the source to compile their own kernel which will have capabilities that Google left out. It is a lot of work, but I’m sure that some developers out there are having fun right now.

  3. George

    Would your grandmother be able to keep a WIndows box free of malware? Doubtful. It’s easy enough to edit a plain text file and add a line… or it can be done thru the GUI in synaptic.

  4. Christopher Price

    Mustang46L, most of what you have said is absolutely correct…

    Except the part about people just making their own kernel, and turning this into a Linux phone.

    There is no way to flash the G1 with another kernel. The bootloader is secured. One would have to hack through the G1′s bootloader.

    Hardly an open process. This goes back to Myth 3… Google’s Dalvik apps are open, and you have the source code as a reference… but the bridge to take Open Linux to the device remains a bridge to nowhere.

  5. Mustang46L

    Yeah I understand. I guess I just never though of the Linux phone we’ve heard so much about to be something the general public wanted to get their hand on. I figured it was something for tech junkies and developers, not grandma.

  6. DannyB

    If Android phones were to run Linux apps, then on which microprocessor architecture?

    The advantage of Java, and Dalvik is that an application binary runs on any phone regardless of its underlying hardware (or even os).

  7. wmpoweruser.com » Blog Archive » Android and Linux- not as cosy as you think

    [...] Phonenews has put up an interesting post about Android, which dispelled some misconceptions I had about the OS. I knew the apps were Java based, but did not know developers did not really have the option to add native Linux apps, or have deep access to the OS. Myth #1 – Android Lets You Run Linux Software. [...]

  8. Doug

    Those all seem like the same myth and I have to question if that is what anyone with an ounce of computer knowledge thought? Android is phone software or a stack of you will. It has always been said to be based on GNU/Linux and to be an open source project. The fact that they built an API layer for developers was expected. The fact that this API layer was based on a form of Java was well known. The fact that this design helps keep software/application development simplified while also keeping the low level _Linux_ based phone services safe and working is a positive aspect of the design.

    So I guess Ruby on Rails also falls to all your myths because it does not run as native GNU/Linux software. Same goes for the software on the OLPC because it runs on the Python stack.

    This isn’t the 80s or even the 90s folks. Software layers make things easier and many times safer. And “Linux” is the kernel. GNU/Linux is what people use because a kernel by itself is not of much use. So this is really Android/GNU/Linux of you want the name to indicate the layering of software to some reasonable extent.

  9. Chris

    Myth 1: “all applications run on a modified form of Java, called Dalvik” – this can’t be true, since the web browser is based on webkit which is written in C++. So there must already exist a way of compiling and running C based GUI apps, though the API is probably not that great – but as long as the basic drawing primitives are there, there’s the potential to port QT and GTK and open up the world of Linux desktop apps.

    I also found this quote “Given that Android can support arbitrary browser plugins written using the NPAPI standard, it should be possible for other popular add-ons (*cough*Flash*cough*) to be ported to the gPhone. The only caveats are: they have to be written in native (C/C++) code, and there is no “official” way to install them on the device. Yet.” http://blogs.zdnet.com/Burnette/?p=662

    The Android browser supports native code plugins? If so, that could be another path to getting native apps on these phones…

  10. Mannemerak

    But seriously people. Arent they just using the OS as an…. well, OS?
    This is the job of an OS, to provide support to whatever you want to abstract from the hardware.
    This is good for Linux in the long run; lots of devices with Linux installed (driver support etc)

  11. Chris

    Ok, a bit more digging later…

    The 2D API is called SGL (Skia Graphics Library), originally developed by a company called Skia. Apparently Google bought them out and opened the source a couple of months ago (1). The code is Apache licensed so you can do whatever you want with it. SGL is used for the Chrome browser.(2) There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of documentation, or maybe I’m just not looking in the right places. The Webkit SGL backend is open and perhaps a good place to look for examples of code use.(3) There is a standalone version of Skia (4) which includes the “hello world” from (5). We can also draw stuff onto the screen with OpenGl ES 1.0, which appears to be open source (6) The OpenGL is well documented, so that’s not a problem. Underneath the GUI is a non-standard libc (called Bionic), but it’s pretty easy to use an ARM cross-compiler to get your own stuff running.(7)

    (8) has a good amount of info on building the cross-compiler, compiling your code, linking to native libraries etc.

    The Android Emulator includes a bash shell that gives full root access, and allows native executable code and libraries to be uploaded and run. It doesn’t seem like the Android development environment itself makes any efforts to hide the Linux underneath. The Android JVM (Dalvik) supports linking to native code with JNI System.loadLibrary. (9)

  12. Chris

    So to sum up, yes a particular phone may have to be jail-broken, or not, but that’s only a matter of time. On the graphics side, Skia and OpenGL are both open and free to use. OpenGL is well documented, Skia not so well. On the libraries and system side, ARM GCC will already compile everything from glibc to python and uploading/linking/running native code is supported by the Android Emulator and JNI is supported by Dalvik.

    ps. Sorry for the long post, I found this page via Google and figured others would too. I hope the information is helpful to someone.

    Hmm. This comment system won’t let me post the links. Suffice to say, check out src.chromium.org android-internals.org and google for the rest :-)

  13. bazz

    i can’t wait for G1 come into my country. hopefully it doesn’t take so much money :D
    after look at android application in google site, i am getting more interested to buy android phone

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  15. Alan Pope

    Whilst the very first response is technically correct, and I understand your reaction – in that using the command line or editing obscure files is not “granny friendly”, it’s also not required. We have a GUI for this and have had for quite some time now (at least 4 years by my counting).

    If I was talking my granny through installing those google apps – well – I wouldn’t, I’d remote desktop in and do it for her, but hey. If I _did_ decide to talk her through it, I’d probably say “Click ‘System’, then ‘Administration’, then ‘Software Sources’, enter your password, then click ‘Third party software’, then ‘Add’, then tell her to copy and paste the line from the email I would already have sent her – or maybe read it out’ – my granny is quite bright at 92 years old.

    I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t take long and isn’t too painful either. If I wasn’t in a hurry I’d probably make a screencast to show her how to do it, or like I said, remote control using some funky graphical software like gitso.

    Whilst you might like to perpetuate the myth that _all_ of linux is obscure files and quirky commands with bizarre names, _sometimes_ that isn’t the case :)

  16. Alan Pope

    “I tried the GUI method on Ubuntu 8.10… and it didn’t work. I had to do the text edit method.”

    Tsk tsk, using the development version of Ubuntu before it’s released :)

  17. Alan Pope

    Touché

  18. Chris

    “Google prohibits developers from running Linux applications on the G1″ – the Android emulator includes specific functionality to upload and run non-Java applications, and gives you a full root shell for general hacking around. If Google didn’t want this functionality to be available, they wouldn’t have included it. Individual phones may not allow the upload of non-Java applications, but that’s not Google’s fault…

    Even if Google were working against running non-Java applications on Android phones, they would fail. Android is open source, so anyone can take the code and compile it for a platform that allows you to run your own applications. You could even run Dalvik on your PC if you feel like it – the Cairo backend for Skia means that any Skia application could run on a standard Linux desktop. As far as phones go, you certainly don’t need a G1 – the Neo Freerunner already runs full Linux applications, and Android is being ported to it (see http://wiki.openmoko.org/wiki/Android ) – current estimates are that porting will be done in November. As you can see from the status (see http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=pzDEXnU19gkeTjpD28t-7fw ) most of the patching is already done.

    “my point was, that Linux still doesn’t take a point-and-click approach to third-party software. It still has a fragmented world view about how to handle that.” – most distributions do package up massive amounts of third party software, many thousands of applications in fact. How many applications do Apple or Microsoft package and provide through a unified installation system? Only the iPhone approaches what the Linux distributions already have, and Android has its own equivalent application repository – the only difference is that the Android store only includes Java applications approved by Google, whereas the iPhone store only includes Objective-C applications approved by Apple.

  19. Chris

    “Koolu.com has announced that they will be selling the OpenMoko Freerunner with Android pre-installed beginning in November 2008, as well as offering free downloads of the Freerunner port of Android to existing Freerunner owners.” – http://www.koolu.com/

    There you go, a standard commercially available phone that runs all Linux applications, including Android ones… :-)

  20. Chris

    It turns out the G1 supports native code upload and execution without any hacks: http://androidcommunity.com/forums/f2/busybox-on-the-g1-4358/

    The G1 actually ships with a running debug daemon. Awesome.

  21. Will Turner

    Most people may know by now, but root access has been obtained. With this, all myths are now true. Please upate your post? If you need proof just google “android root”.

  22. Five Common Myths About Linux and Android (Updated) « Icwang’s Blog

    [...] Five Common Myths About Linux and Android (Updated) Five Common Myths About Linux and Android (Updated) [...]

  23. ct

    @doug:

    “It has always been said to be based on GNU/Linux and to be an open source project.”

    That isn’t actually true. Android is based on Linux, but not GNU/Linux. There is no FSF/GNU code in Android.

  24. Олег

    Кстати подобное придумали ориентировочно лет 10 назад .:

  25. OOObuntooo

    Then why do certain websites identify Android as Linux?

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  28. Sam Hall

    Just stumbled on this and must say that looking back you have to admit you totally missed the mark in some of your points there. While the headings may be true, the reasoning behind each point makes this look more like an opinion piece. Sure Google don’t want to promote Android as a Linux capable platform for several reasons. But they haven’t actively blocked the community from going ahead and doing so (it’s just smartphone manufacturers and telcos pushing for this, and they are not Android). For someone who isn’t Google you seem to speak with great authority on their behalf. Almost every Google product has an easily downloadable installer for my Ubuntu workstation. My Android phone is running a suite of GNU software ported to the platform by dedicated community of Android hackers who are a hell of a lot more organised and professional than that of the iPhone hacking community (rooted iPhoned are far more susceptible to worms as far as I can tell). Sure, I had to root the phone and my grandma isn’t going to do that, but that’s fine, that’s not the point. I wanted a platform I could mess with and this was the only choice.

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