Fork you, they won’t do what you tell them
GOOGLE HAS SAID it wants to bring Android into line with the main Linux kernel.
Although Android already works on a Linux kernel, it’s been so heavily modified over the years, it’s almost unrecognisable, and certainly no longer compatible with the main Linux operating system.
Now, however, Google has expressed its desire to right that wrong and bring Android back into line with the regular fork of Linux.
The advantages are manifest. For a start, it would save thousands of hours of work to maintain a separate fork for years at a time.
But more importantly it would mean that both Android and Linux would benefit from the advances we’ve seen in both since the two parted company, meaning more advanced Linux powered computers, and more agile Android builds.
The process is already underway – the differences have reduced from 60,000 lines of extra code in the Android fork at its peak to 32,000 and falling. In fact, Google has even demonstrated a more-or-less working Android device running on a build created from the latest Linux kernel. It ain’t perfect, but it’s getting there.
The big challenge, however, won’t be the changes made by Google, but rather the individual mishmash of changes made by OEMs at a chipset or device level. It’d mean that, for the first time, Android phones could be running on an up-to-date version of the Linux kernel – at present, Android 10 is running on a two-year-old version, because that’s how long it takes to reconfigure it for Android – and Android doesn’t currently offer kernel updates anyway.
The secret weapon to combat this already exists – Project Treble. As you’ll recall, Treble allows OEMs to push updates to devices without a whole new build. If Google can work out a method for putting all those kernel changes into a Treble module, each device can run on the standard kernel, with the tweaks being offered according to need.
So when does this all kick in then? Well, possibly never. Even the Linux developer community is less than convinced that the agility of the two kernels can be brought into line. But Google has made a statement of intent. What happens next is anyone’s guess. μ
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