I have read all related questions here, but they don't answer my questions or are not up-to-date since Android is particularly included in Linux kernel ( > 3.x.x).

Why didn't Google just take a Linux distribution (for example Debian) and add drivers for touchscreen, mobile service, etc and create a desktop environment for touchscreens.

If kernel modules won't be included in the Linux kernel, it would be possible to use the streamlined Linux kernel and add these modules (and remove some, like unnecessary drivers).

Today it will fail to run standard Linux on every smartphone and tablet, because of missing drivers, but they could have been written for Linux, not Android.

It would have been saved double development of new features

  • Probably because the development team wanted to have more freedom in what they were devloping. Writing a kernel to be included in linux means that you have to follow certain standards in order for it to be accepted. Moreover maybe the kernel devs didn't feel the need for some of those functionalities, which would have been rejected. so they just went their own way and they are trying to contribute back parts of what they have done as a "side project".
    – Bakuriu
    Jun 27, 2016 at 11:03
  • 2
    We call a distribution "Linux-based" even if it just uses the Linux Kernel, ultimately meaning that Linux is just a kernel, not an OS. So, Android uses Linux kernel, with heavy modifications to support mobile device features, importantly power management. People don't call Android a Linux Distro because it doesn't use any (or much) standard GNU softwares & other libraries as other Linux-based Distros do.. Your question is like asking why iOS is different from Mac OSX ;-)
    – Gokul NC
    Jun 27, 2016 at 11:49

3 Answers 3


Why didn't Google just take a Linux distribution ... and create a desktop environment for touchscreens?

Because they didn't want to create a desktop environment for touchscreens: they wanted to create a new OS for smartphones. Smartphones (and earlier, PDAs) based on not only the Linux kernel but the GNU userspace, with the same programming environment as desktop Linux, existed for years before Android did, but they were a huge commercial failure.

The chief advantage of using a GNU/Linux distribution is the idea that you can simply recompile all the same applications for your new hardware, rather than having to write a new application. But this has never worked out in practice. A user interface designed to work with a keyboard and mouse on a big PC display simply doesn't work on a phone touchscreen. The ways that programs interact with each other on a PC with almost unlimited storage and no need to conserve power simply doesn't work with the limited energy and storage requirements of a phone. The pixel-layout, fixed-dpi ways of designing graphics and user interfaces for PC displays have already been outgrown for PCs, and phones need something better. In addition, smartphones introduce new features - ubiquitous location availability, cell modems and telephony, and Bluetooth - which PCs have never offered applications a standard way to access.

The Android team set out to offer a programming interface (the Android framework) to let app authors access all the needed functionality, in a way which wasn't previously available. They set out to isolate apps from each other to protect the integrity and the battery of the device in a way that wasn't possible in any existing Linux distribution. They set out to create a new graphics subsystem to avoid falling into the Linux community's dependence on X Windows. They set out to create a commercial success, which had never previously been achieved with Linux-based handhelds.

They achieved all those goals, by doing exactly the thing you complain about. Android is much bigger than just some Linux drivers, and many kernel drivers for Android devices do eventually make it back to mainstream Linux.

  • Very good arguments, but I think commercial success is mostly marketing: Buy all Laptop/PC seller, preinstall Linux (e.g. Ubuntu) everywhere, sponser tutorials on YouTube and pay for TV Spot and it will be a success
    – Motte001
    Jun 27, 2016 at 16:18
  • I get things like rewriting the display server and isolating apps, but that doesn't explain why the kernel has to be so different. I'm sure that will be possible for Google to benefit from new Linux kernel features while still creating their own unique platform. Feb 23, 2017 at 6:15

The key to this answer is license

When the android team started programming android they tested many kernels but none where as good (for their needs) so they settle for Linux.

Now the question arises that ,

> Why Google was running away from Linux

We should know that Google at that time already had the model of android in mind

So we should think from opposite way See , if android was built on Linux the OEM would have to make their sources open which would result in a very little competition and that would defeat the work of android

So when Google saw no other way they settled for Linux but tried to stay away from GNU GPL V2 licence

So in their run they made Linux as the kernel and android running top of it

  • There's nothing to stop Android being based on Linux with both open-source and closed-source drivers and an open-source userspace: in fact that's exactly how Android is developed.
    – Dan Hulme
    Jun 27, 2016 at 19:52
  • @DanHulme I will edit and add more information
    – DevUt
    Jun 29, 2016 at 12:58

While the original reason for creating the operating system (Android) might have been licensing, the reason that smartphone is not running a standard Linux distribution is battery.

I was part of an effort to port Linux and Java to smartphones, at about the same time that Android evolved. We could get a slimmed down version of a Linux distribution to run on the devices we had, at the time for about 20 minutes to half an hour.

Although, with modern battery technology, Android is loosening up the constraints, the original versions were very very heavily optimized, for battery life. Even so, the original Dream often didn't make it through a whole day without a battery change.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .