Even though Google initially separated its Android project from the Linux project, the latest Linux kernel version is encompassing Android.
When Google decided to build its Android operating system, the company didn’t start from scratch. It pulled code and ideas from multiple open source projects but still added its own flair and functionality to all of the code. The biggest original code source for Android however, is Linux.
Most open source project communities pride themselves on keeping all code open and interchangeable between projects using the code, but Google’s harvesting of Linux and then creating its own project that isn’t part of the collective created some tension between the company and the Linux community. That animosity is being cured, due in part to the Linux kernel upgrade (version 3.3) released yesterday.
Linus Torvalds, creator and leader of the Linux kernel project, announced that the latest core of the Linux operating system would start to bridge the separation between the Linux and Android projects. The differences in the code of the two projects are in handling features like keyboard input, multitasking, and keeping data readily available in memory. Because the Linux kernel is open source, the main repository is available at kernel.org and is overseen by Torvalds.
Bringing the two code bases back in line with each other will hopefully make both projects more efficient. Google will see benefits from improvements to the main Linux kernel code and other mobile device developers that use Linux will be able to use some of Google’s innovations.
Open source projects are so important because they harness the power of the group. As our society’s web 2.0 infatuation has shown, the power of the group shouldn’t be underestimated. Many believe that more innovation, more talent, more problem-solving come out of open source, group driven projects.
The example that comes to mind is Wikipedia. Whether you trust the site or not, it’s tough to deny the incredible popularity the site has gained since its inception and the general usefulness it provides when you need background information on a topic (whereas the scholastic merit and substantiation of the entry are held in question).
The same kind of taking and separating of open source code also happened when Google was using the WebKit browser engine. Google was developing a stock browser to put on all of its Android devices. The company used open source code from WebKit but made their own modifications and separated its project from the main WebKit project. However, when Chrome for Android came out, that project was no longer necessary. Instead of dropping it altogether, Google integrated what progress it had completed with the WebKit project into the Chrome for Android product.
Aside from Torvalds announcement, a Sony programmer who also contributes to the Linux Foundation’s consumer-electronics project (Tim Bird) had said in December that bringing Linux and Android back together was one of the foundation’s projects. In November of last year, Torvalds had explained in an interview that when projects fork off from the main kernel, they usually flop. However, because of the success that Google has seen with Android, the Linux Foundation was eager to bring Android back into the main Linux fold.
To be more specific, version 3.3 allows users to boot straight into an Android userspace. This means, Android app developers wouldn’t have to go download the specialized Linux kernel from Google, it comes with the standard kernel that comes with downloading the kernel from kernel.org.
Another benefactor from this re-partnering is Mozilla, who also has a project for a Linux-based operating system. Currently, the company is using the Android-open source project software. By tapping into the collective talent and brain power that comes with the Linux kernel, Mozilla and Google are potentially getting more resources for innovation.
If you’re interested in reading more about Android, check out our blog post about Google purging malware from the Android Marketplace.