Is Aliyun OS really Linux? Android? A rip-off of both?

Summary:What is Aliyun OS? A Linux fork? An Android fork? An Android rip-off? It appears to be an illegal Linux/Android fork offering pirated Android programs.

Android Family
There are many legitimate members of the Android family, Aliyun isn't one of them.

When Acer was ready to announce a new smartphone running Alibaba's Aliyun operating system, Google responded with force. If it were to be released, Google would end its partnership with Acer, which uses Android for 90 percent of its smartphones.

Acer swiftly cancelled the release, but clearly Acer wasn't happy about the state of affairs. Alibaba, China's largest e-commerce company, was even less happy.

Alibaba says it wants Aliyun OS to be the "Android of China," claiming that they've spent years working on their Linux-based mobile operating system.

Google didn't see it that way. Google thinks Alibaba is an Android rip-off. 

In Google's Android Official Blog, Andy Rubin, Google's senior vice president of mobile and digital content said:

"We built Android to be an open source mobile platform freely available to anyone wishing to use it. In 2008, Android was released under the Apache open source license and we continue to develop and innovate the platform under the same open source license -- it is available to everyone at: http://source.android.com. This openness allows device manufacturers to customize Android and enable new user experiences, driving innovation and consumer choice.”

But: "While Android remains free for anyone to use as they would like, only Android compatible devices benefit from the full Android ecosystem. By joining the Open Handset Alliance (OHA), each member contributes to and builds one Android platform -- not a bunch of incompatible versions."

Android is a mobile operating system branch of Linux. While there have been disagreements between developers, Android and mainstream Linux buried the hatchet in March 2012.

So, from where Google sits, Aliyun OS is an incompatible Android fork.  John Spelich, Alibaba vice president of international corporate affairs replied oddly: "[Google] have no idea and are just speculating. Aliyun is different."

How can Google have no idea about what Aliyun is if it is indeed, as Alibaba claims, a Linux fork? Linux is licensed under the GNU General Public License, version 2 (GPLv2). Part of that license insists that if a GPLv2 program is released to general users, the source code must be made publicly available. Thus, perhaps Google doesn't have any idea because, as Spelich indidicted and far as I've been able to find, Aliyun's source code is not available anywhere. If indeed the source code isn't open and freely available, even if Aliyun has no Android connection, this would still make it an illegal Linux fork.

Spelich went on to claim that Aliyun is "not a fork," adding: "Ours is built on open-source Linux." In addition, Aliyon runs "our own applications. It's designed to run cloud apps designed in our own ecosystem. It can run some but not all Android apps."

Rubin, in a Google+ post, replied, “We agree that the Aliyun OS is not part of the Android ecosystem and you're under no requirement to be compatible.”

“However, " he continued, "[t]he fact is, Aliyun uses the Android runtime, framework and tools. And your app store contains Android apps (including pirated Google apps). So there's really no disputing that Aliyun is based on the Android platform and takes advantage of all the hard work that's gone into that platform by the OHA."

Hands on research by Android Police, a publication dedicated to Android reporting and analysis, shows that Aliyun app store includes pirated Google apps.

Android Police found that, "Aliyun's app store appeared to be distributing Android apps scraped from the Play Store and other websites, not only downloadable to Aliyun devices as .apk files, but also provided by third parties not involved with the apps' or games' development. What's more, we've received independent confirmation from the original developers of some of these apps that they did not in fact give consent for their products to be distributed in Aliyun's app store."

Not the least of the evidence is that the Aliyun includes Google's own Android applications such as Google Translate, Google Sky Map, Google Drive, and Google Play Books. The odds of Google giving Aliyun permission to use its own applications are somewhere between zero and none.

What we seem to have in Aliyun is an illegal Android and Linux fork, which supports a pirated software ecosystem. I only wonder that Google didn't come down even harder on Acer and I really wonder how much due diligence, if any, Acer did before signing a deal with Alibaba. 

Related:

Topics: Android, Google, Legal, Linux, Mobile OS, Mobility, Open Source, Operating Systems, Smartphones

About

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, aka sjvn, has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was the cutting edge, PC operating system; 300bps was a fast Internet connection; WordStar was the state of the art word processor; and we liked it.His work has been published in everything from highly technical publications... Full Bio

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