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Can Android do Serious Linux Work, or is it Just a Toy?

What's What with Google Android

  • December 16, 2010
  • By Paul Ferrill
The Linux-based Android is the hot new mobile platform, but is it more than an entertainment device? Can it do remote server administration? What about the also red-hot iPad?
Lugging a laptop around is preferable to commuting, but why not go even more portable with a smartphone or tablet? Can Android serve as a capable remote server administration platform? Android is based on Linux and is open source, so it seems it should be a natural for portable administration.

Both Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating systems were designed from the ground up with the mobile phone as the principal platform. Apple has used iOS for their iPad tablet device and the Apple TV set-top-box, while Google has essentially followed suit with a number of Android-based tablet devices already on the market, and the latest Google-TV product offerings from Logitech and Sony. It certainly seems like Apple and Google are competing head-to-head on many fronts. So are these just toys, or can they do serious work?

So What is Android Anyway?

While many associate Android directly with Google, you might not know that it was actually developed by Android Inc., a company Google purchased in 2005. The Android operating system is based upon a modified Linux kernel and exists under the auspices of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). For an insider view of what Android is you should read a recent blog post by Google employee Tim Bray.

Linux is at the heart of Android. In fact, each Android release is based upon a specific version of the Linux kernel, albeit a modified one. There have been issues along the way over Google kernel modifications with some code being deleted from the main tree (see this blog post by kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman). At the end of the day it's safe to say that Android is based on a modified Linux kernel.

Android, like any modern operating system, has gone through a number of releases with 2.3 (Gingerbread) being the most recent. The releases have come in relatively short cycles as shown in the table below:

1.1Feb 9, 2009Initial Public Release
1.5Apr 30, 2009Cupcake Release2.6.27
1.6Sep 15, 2009Donut2.6.29
2.0Oct 26, 2009Eclair2.6.29
2.1Jan 12, 2010 2.6.29
2.2May 20, 2010Froyo2.6.32
2.3Dec 6, 2010Gingerbread2.6.35

In just under two years there have been seven point releases of the Android operating system. That's a pretty big number of releases, especially when you compare that to something like Microsoft's Windows operating system and their glacial release cycle. The Android team have managed to keep pretty close track of Linux kernel releases as well.

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