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Android – another Linux spearhead?

Lets face it, just about anyone even slightly interested in technology, electronics, software, or simply cell phones has heard of the hype surrounding Android – Google’s latest bit of work.

Simply put, Android is a software platform and operating system for mobile devices, based on the Linux kernel, developed by Google and later the Open Handset Alliance. This succinct definition has been taken from Wikipedia.

My particular curiosity was piqued by three things related to Android: Google, the fact that it is open source, and that it is based on the Linux kernel.

Google has a slightly higher tendency for open source projects than other companies of its fiscal weight, (some) examples being their interest in Firefox and Wine, and bit of their own codes too. They often think obliquely, and rather long term, so the fact that they are simply handing out the Android code (free) is not so surprising, given what they stand to earn from the advertising revenues if the whole ploy succeeds.

But the best part for me was the usage of the Linux kernel as the core. A modified, mangled, kernel, but still, Linux.

Since long, I have advocated Linux use to just about everyone I meet, mainly because of the superiority of Linux in nearly all departments, except desktop market penetration and the range of applications available. Yes, I use Windows, but only because I am forced to – most of the best desktop applications do not run on Linux. Credit where credit due, Microsoft takes the cake here: they make a pathetic Windows, but then fill it up with Office 2007, Visual Studio, and Expression. And when Adobe makes their CS exclusive for Windows, you have a hard time shifting to Linux for good, if you are a regular desktop user.

Nevertheless, Linux is perfect for the ‘newer’ and ‘higher’ markets. And there is none newer than the mobile device market.

The last mobile device to make real waves was the iPhone, which runs a kind of OS X. Now, it is the G1 from HTC, running Android. There has been a lot of hype, much has been said, and popularity, specially in some enterprise and business circles, has spiraled skywards.

The Linux kernel in Android handles all the core system services, such as security, memory management, process management, network stack, and driver model (as quoted on Google’s site). Besides, it forms an abstraction layer between the hardware and all the rest of the stack, that includes the Java running VM.

What does the use of Linux mean for users? Stability, security and speed.

But what does the use of Linux mean for Linux? It means that Google (which already contributes about 1% of the official development on the Linux kernel) should be interested. This will help inject new potency into Linux. But moreover, this puts Linux on the pedestal for another domain – mobile devices. Linux has been slowly eating away at the Windows share on the desktop market, more so since Ubuntu came along. Now, the same may become true of the burgeoning mobile device market.

Even though most users who use Android may never know that they are running a Linux based device, the Android-Linux pairing certainly holds promise.

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