Thom Holwerda on OSNews has a few choice words for those who would argue against Android being a Linux distribution. As much respect as I have for Thom and OSNews, I have to disagree with him on this point. Android may be built around a fork of the Linux kernel, but it is distributed in an ecosystem quite alien to your standard Linux distro.

Thom's point is that Linux, not specifically addressing GNU/Linux, is a kernel, the core of an operating system that allows other processes to access the hardware. Without the kernel, there is no computer, so building an operating system around a kernel makes sense. The term "GNU/Linux" addresses the combination of userland programs (like a shell and command line tools) and desktop environments with the Linux kernel, building what we call the Linux distros. Ubuntu, Fedora, Slackware, and every other Linux distro are combinations of desktop environments built on top of their own fork of the Linux kernel, this is what creates an operating system. It takes both to make a computer run.

However, building a system around Linux does not necessarily make it conform to the set of expectations that people have when they talk about being a Linux user. The user expects that they should be able to modify any part of the operating system, or replace the operating system completely if they so desire. While this is true for the "factory" images for Google's Nexus, it is much more difficult to find image downloads for manufacturer customized versions of Android.

Then there is the matter of Jean-Baptiste Quéru quitting his post as the maintainer of the Android Open Source Project over proprietary binaries being required for Android to boot on Google's flagship Nexus product. Android is developed behind closed doors, and once it is deemed ready the source is released. One has to wonder if it were not for the GPL and legal requirements if Google would bother releasing anything at all. From my point of view, the Android ecosystem is built around being open for hardware manufacturers and carriers, not for the end user of the device. Linux is built for the people.

Perhaps the most compelling argument against Android being another Linux distribution comes from Google themselves:
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--jeremy