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

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: 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. 


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

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • It would be funny if Google will be "Googled" as Apple was at the time ...

    ... when Eric Schmidt was sitting at Apple's board for years, having early access to iPhone OS (almost year before iPhone was on sale in June of 2007) only to radically change Android UI from BlackBerry clone to conceptual iPhone OS clone.

    This betrayal has made Steven Jobs furious, because this was second time already when he has trusted his partner only to be betrayed later.

    Back in 1982 Steven Jobs invited William Gates, Microsoft, to develop software for upcoming Macintosh -- this was for products that was later called "Microsoft Office".

    To solve legal issues that would allow Microsoft design software for window-based GUI, in 1983 Apple licensed specific rights for that -- excluding the rights to use those elements of UI in an OS.

    This licensing agreement had fatal flaw: when Microsoft prepared to release their Windows 1.0 in 1985, Steven Job went furious, and after Jobs was gone from Apple the company tried to sue Microsoft for breaking licensing agreement.

    However, Microsoft claimed that Windows 1.0 was not an OS, it was just OS shell, and hence they had the rights to use the GUI. So by the time Microsoft released their first more of OS Windows -- 3.0 in 1990 -- Apple already lost all the trials and the history was done.

    (And before anyone will respond the usual nonsense about GUI roots, it has to be said clear that back in 1979 Apple paid with its shares for access to specific XeroxParc IP, and Steven Jobs invited original inventors to work at Apple -- to release their dream instead of being ignored in huge but blind behemoth of corporation Xerox was at the time. William Gates neither paid anything to Xerox, nor hired actual GUI inventors.

    Also, Apple make crucial improvements to GUI, without which it would hardly fly, but rather stayed gimmicky thing -- for example, concept of menu bar did not even exist in Xerox version of GUI.)
    • So much for openness and altruism

      Based on the same reasoning shouldn't Linus have been stopped for forking off a branch off Unix to create own Linux?
      • Nope

        Linux is not a fork of Unix, Linux was written from scratch by Linus and later many other contributors to the kernel, you could call it a Unix clone, as it uses many of the same standards as Unix, but it is all new code, and not a fork.
        • It's All In The Name

          To further reinforce things - there is the name:

          L - i - n - ux


          Linux is not unix.

          Linux is actually an offshoot of Minix.

          • And Linux is GPL, so Alibaba must supply source

            Yes, we know what Linus is, and if it's what Alibaba used for this handset then they are required by the GPL terms of Linux to supply full source code to it.

            Strangely, they don't appear to have done that, despite being the ones insisting that it's a fork of Linux...

            Which seems to suggest that Alibaba may not be playing according to ANY of the rules.
          • China? Rules?

            What I'm so surprised about is anyone expecting or acting shocked that a company in China is not "playing by the rules". Isn't it China that makes all the Iphone clones? Isn't it China where you can buy a copy of an American DVD on the street? Since when has China followed any American law or "rule"?
          • facepalm

            Really? That's what went through your head when you read this article? Let me get this straight, are you claiming that the market sector in China is so corrupt that any company from China should be expected to be corrupt? I guess you're forgetting all those other American companies who decided to break American laws which lead to the housing collapse back in 2008. I guess it's pretty hard to follow American laws when even American companies have a hard time doing it, eh? The truth is businesses break the law - and do so quite often, mind you - regardless of country of origin to make more money. Human nature - greed - is the culprit here, not nationality.
          • well said!

            Greed is the root of all the worlds issues. The whole planet is being held to ransom over the price of Oil because investors in the US can make more money from a higher priced crude oil.. Really sad. And during the crash there were many investors making millions from the downfall of others.. Tis an odd world we live in.. how do they sleep at night..
          • Victims of our own devices

            China has always played by their own rules, gaining profits from the rape and of legitimate companies' patents. But we can thank the Clinton regime who fought so hard to give China "Favored Nation" trade status. And now that so many companies have exported their manufacturing to China, law enforcement agencies are handicapped from pursuit because the only viable solution is to pull all manufacturing out of China. Otherwise, China impedes the export or manufacture of the products to inflate the prices...
            But our own corporate greed, I mean Capitalism, has built this monster.
          • mixed up

            gaining from the rape and of legitimate companies' patents. that sounds exactly like what america does.
            beau parisi
          • Not just the clones

            China doesn't just make the clones, the actual iPhones themselves are made at Foxconn in China. As far as how China follows rules, some time ago there were some articles floating around about how companies outsourced their manufacturing operations to third party Chinese companies only to have their equipment stolen by these Chinese companies.
          • corrupt, really

            if China (mainland) was half as corrupt as Japan, why hasn't China sold itself out to western multinational corporations like south Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, all have done? Cloning iphones, or selling dvd;s does not mean China is corrupt. If China was corrupt, American film companies can walk into China pay off the cops, and have them round up everyone that is selling dvd's or cloning iphones. This is what American film companies and Apple have been able to get away with in most parts of the world. Since this isn't happening, then it shows that China is not corruptable. The more complicit a regime is to western multinational corporations, the more corrupt they are. That's a fact.
            beau parisi
          • Linux Is Not an Offshoot of MINIX Either

            Linux is a functional clone of a Unix kernel, which had a Free version even back then (BSD). MINIX is another functional clone of Unix. Linux does not use code from either Unix or MINIX. Its only connection with MINIX other than the Unix connection is that Linus was running MINIX on the computer he used to write the first few versions of Linux (until Linux was complete enough to host its own development).

            Linus had taken an operating system development course in which MINIX was used as an example operating system. However, he had a fundamental disagreement about how a kernel should be built, since MINIX very completely advocated the microkernel approach while Linux started out as a completely monolithic kernel. In practice, most kernels end up using some elements of both a microkernel and a monolithic approach because there are certain disadvantages to going completely with either approach.
          • Wrong, Linux is not based on Minix!

            "Linux is actually an offshoot of Minix."

            Not according to Andrew Tannenbaum, who wrote Minix. There never was any Minix code in Linux. Minix uses a microkernel architecture. LInux uses a macro kernel. this was the source of a famous flame war in the 1990's between Tannenbaum and Torvalds. Windows is actually closer to Minix than Linux is. as both are based on microkernels.

            Tannenbaum preferrs a microkernel approach for theoretical reasons. A microkernel is supposed to give a system that is easier to maintain. Some BSD systems, Solaris and Microsoft NT systems also follow the microkernel approach.

            Linus Torvalds believes that a macrokernel, with most of the kernel functions in a single program gives c ode that is about 30% faster. Tests seem to support Linus position.

            Linux did take a course that taught kernel design using Minix, which was originally intended for use as a simple example of system design. However, he didn't really like the limited use Minix gave at the time (ca. 1991). So, he began to make his own. When it could run a little, he released it on the internet. his original post mentioned Minix, but that was the only relation it had.
          • Micokernels, Minix, Linux, and Linus

            BSD isn't a microkernel at all and NT and OSX have some microkernel qualities but are far from a Minix or a HURD. QNX is probably the most widely known/used microkernel.

            On another note, Linus' main issue with Minix was the license which did not allow one to redistribute changes. People resorted to supplying patch sets but as you can imagine that became unwieldy. Starting from the ground up became a better option and a monolithic kernel was a much easier option to begin with.
    • Good artists copy, great artists steal.

      Not every moment in history can be painted with a black and white brush. Not everybody is either good or bad. Do you truly believe that Apple never did anything unscrupulous throughout their history? Business means that nobody can "do no evil", not even Google. Even Linux stole from other operating systems, but they tend to get away with a lot, because it's "open source".

      It seems as though many people are quick to judge those whom do evil, but overlook the evil that they themselves do. Frankly, I think the patent system is a load of baloney. Be free, take the good ideas and use it, make it better and then let the world choose what they want.
      General C#
      • Pray tell the world!

        "Even Linux stole from other operating systems, but they tend to get away with a lot, because it's "open source"

        Can't wait to hear where this piece of bull*&#t came from!
        Gary Packer
        • I'll tell the world!

          Its a true fact he just made up.
        • Actually, it's more true than you think

          because there's no one to litigate against or too many to litigate against, no one sue's "Linux" directly.

          However, as soon as someone attempts to use Linux in a commercial product, then the patent owners line up and inform the company selling the Linux product about all the infringements and how much each infringement will cost, along with a NDA.

          IBM pioneered that years ago. Remember who owned the patent on "Carraige Return Line Feed"? IBM made boat loads off that one.

          MS and Apple do exactly the same.
          • CRLF patent

            I can find no evidence of such a patent existing. If it did exist, it would belong to Western Union (CR/LF was required as two separate commands for teletypes), not IBM
            Marc Jellinek