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InfoQ Homepage News IcedRobot – An OpenJDK-based Fork of Android

IcedRobot – An OpenJDK-based Fork of Android

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A team of developers has announced the intent to fork Android in order to create a new OS based on OpenJDK, escaping Oracle’s patent lawsuits, to make it run on other platforms and operating systems, and to bring it to the desktop.

IcedRobot LogoAndroid makes heavy use of Dalvik, a Java VM partially based on Apache Harmony, an open source Java implementation. Oracle filed a patent and copyright infringement claim against Google last year, accusing Google of breaching seven of their patents because of Dalvik, with serious implications on the open source and free character of the Android OS. A team of 6 developers has announced at FOSDEM 2011 (slides (PDF)) the intention to fork Android in order to create a new version that is litigation-free. The project is called IcedRobot.

David Fu, one member of the IcedRobot team and an Engineer at Opera Software, said they want “a truly Free Android which adheres to the Four Freedoms”. He also explained that the project is to be divided in two subprojects: GNUDroid and GNUBishop:

GNUDroid is a project meant to create an Android implementation using Free Software components borrowed from GNU Classpath and OpenJDK. This will be the IcedRobot Micro Edition.

GNUBishop is a project meant to augment the standard features offered by Android with typical Desktop functionality that are missing in the mobile world. This will be the IcedRobot Standard Edition.

Mario Torre, another member of the team and a software developer with JP Morgan Chase, offered other details on the project. IcedRobot is to run on any version of Linux, not just the customized one used by Google in Android, and Torre wants to make it run on OSX and QNX. Also, the want to remove dependencies to Dalvik and Harmony and put it on top of OpenJDK and GNU Classpath, and “run the whole thing in Hotspot”. They also want to support other platforms such as x86.

There is no public code yet, but they are currently forking Android 2.3 and the first step is “to decouple Dalvik from the custom Linux kernel that Android uses and at the same time to port the extra APIs (and especially the graphics stack) so that I can run this thing standalone.”

Practically, they want to make Oracle’s lawsuit “a bad dream of the past” by building IcedRobot on free code that cannot be attacked in court. The other thing is to make IcedRobot run on multiple platforms including bringing it to the desktop, because “Google TV is cool, we want it on our desktops!”

The IcedRobot announcement was not well organized, the team spreading various bits of information on different blogs, making them look like they need a hand in the PR department, but they are dedicated to free and open software. Will they manage to pull this off? After all, this is a lot of work, and it is unlikely device manufacturers to use the resulting software in real-life smartphones or tablets. If they do create such an OS based on Android, who is going to use it and where?

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