Linux, Android and Open Source in
the Mobile Environment
February 25, 2010
Survey of Linux on mobile
Kernel-only open source in mobile world
Curious status of Android and why we care
Why do we care?
Linux is well-established on servers and in embedded,
but mobile is wide open.
Mobile outcomes for Linux will have significant
consequences for other platforms.
Smartphones = most important battleground.
What do we mean by “Linux”?
"anyone can call any kernel-derived operating system
Linux" -- Jim Zemlin
"Linux is the kernel . . . . Linux is normally used in
combination with the GNU operating system: the whole
system is basically GNU with Linux added, or GNU/Linux.
All the so-called'Linux' distributions are really distributions
of GNU/Linux." -- RMS
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Linux is a clone of the operating system Unix, written
from scratch by Linus Torvalds with assistance from a
loosely-knit team of hackers . . .
It has all the features you would expect in a modern fully-
fledged Unix, including true multitasking, virtual memory,
shared libraries, demand loading, shared copy-on-write
executables, proper memory management, and
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Full “Gnu Linux” implementations
Name Supported by Hardware Based on
MeeGo = Moblin Intel, Nokia, N900, LG Fedora or
+ Maemo Linux GW990; ARM Debian + Qt
Foundation and x86 (Atom)
Mer ? Fully open N900 Ubuntu
LiMo + LIPS = LiMo NEC, Samsung, custom
ELIPS Foundation, Panasonic,
Wind River Vodafone, NTT
Angstrom Archos Archos 5 Tablet OpenEmbedded
AccessLinux, Orange, Access, FreeRunner various
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Intel's Moorestown SOC Built for
LG GW990 running Moblin on Moorestown
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What we know about MeeGo
● Motivation is earlier market failures
● Aimed at netbooks and “slates” like Atom?
● Intel and Nokia continue separate app stores?!
● Committed fast-boot patches back to main tree
● GTK and Clutter not much supported
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Linux Kernel Plus
Name Support Hardware Platform Language
Bada Samsung Wave Own SDK C++
Android Open Handset myriad JVM Java
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Smartphone Sales by OS
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The most valuable piece of I.P. in
the world is . . .
the GPL'ed Linux kernel.
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WebOS (and Chrome?) Software Stack
FaiB, even to OEMs, but not FaiF.
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Android has some familiar features
● Can adb into unlocked phones, type “ls” and
“ps” and peek into /etc, /proc
● Developers can cross-compile C code for ARM
● Kernel supports insmod, ioctl, dmesg, etc.
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But “Android/Linux” is not standard
(based on material by Matt Porter and Harald Welte)
● System calls are handled by Goog's own Bionic,
based on BSD's libc
● Bionic is half the size of glibc
● Avoided LGPL by rolling their own instead of using
● Chock-a-block with hard-coded constants and policies
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Will the Android fork damage the kernel?
● drivers/staging/android removed from kernel.org
● Drivers don't build against main kernel
● OEMs cannot contribute drivers back to the kernel
● More threatening to the main effort than, say, an Arduino fork
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Licenses and Mobile Phones
● Maemo had plenty of closed components.
● WebOS and Bada have no licenses at all.
● Android is Apache-licensed but drivers are closed.
● Installation of “Google Experience” apps not
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Community Android remixes?
● Android ported to Tegra, Snapdragon, etc.
●Runs on phones, eBook readers (Nook),
netbooks (Acer), MIDs.
●“Remixes” of Android likely: Frog Design.
● “Less than free” even to handset manufacturers.
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Android-based open source
● FLOSS Dispenser: a free market for Android
● CyanogenMod Project, alt build of Android
● Open Android Alliance dead as of 2/20
● Replicant Project aims to replace closed components
● Debian can be installed on top of Android?
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Mobile Linux Take-aways
● LiMo, ELIPS, Bada, others will ship on millions of featurephones
● MeeGo is desktop Linux rejiggered for mobile
● webOS and Chrome OS are browser-based OS's founded on
the Linux kernel
● 800-lb gorilla is “less than free” but may be unstoppable
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● Linux-based mobile OS's differ at the
architecture and library levels, not at the
● If you thought desktop distros were confusing,
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Symbian: completely irrelevant?
● As of 2010, fully open under Eclipse license – except for drivers
● Based on ancient Psion real-time microkernel
● Runs on many handsets, but they have closed bootloaders
● Only open hardware is TI's Beagleboard
● Free, but not “less than free” like Android
● Apps must be signed by Symbian Foundation
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References and Sources
Software Freedom Law Center blog and podcasts by Bradley M.
Kuhn on Android/Linux's Future and Advancement of Mobile Software Freedom
and Software Freedom on Mobile Devices
Palm, Nokia, Moblin, Google, Engadget websites
Linux Weekly News http://lwn.net/Articles/374612/
“Android Mythbusters” by Matt Porter
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Traditional OS stack
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Chrome OS Stack
The ‘Browser’ engine is the system execution engine.
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