Linux OS: Licensing Overview and Embedded Linux 

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This article will look at:

  • Linux Licensing Overview
  • Current Top Distributions
  • Different Faces of Embedded Linux
  • Android

LinuxThe Linux Licensing Overview

The Linux trademark is owned by Linus Torvalds, who still maintains control over the kernel. However, the Linux kernel is governed by a license known as the GPL (GNU General Public License).  This license (which has received the nickname “copyleft”) allows users to modify, copy and distribute the software under the license provided. In this way any new modified version retains the GPL license.  Those who license under the GPL must not make the software proprietary and must also provide access to the software’s source code and object code.  In essence, it allows the software to be used and manipulated by anyone, provided that they then allow the same rules to apply to any changes thet may have made to the original software.  The way this is achieved is done through two steps. The first step is to copyright the software as normal.  The second step is to then add the rules concerning its distribution and ensure that these rules cannot change as the software changes.  This, according to the GNU license overview ensures that, “the code and the freedoms become legally inseparable.”

The Current Top 5 Distributions

Because of the vast number of distributions and varying opinions of each one, it is difficult to find an objective list of the top 5 distributions.  Based off of the page hit ranking provided by, the top five Linux distributions are (as of January 15 2014): Mint, Devian, Ubuntu, Mageia and Fedora.  Another survey conducted on subscribers to the Linux Journal suggests a similar list to the DistroWatch list. This survey (entitled the Best Linux Distribution) had the following distributions as its top 5: Ubuntu, Debian, Arch Linux, Linux Mint, Fedora.  However, due to the nature of the subscribers, it is possible that the review is bias. Due to its simple, objective methods, the page hit ranking provided by is probably the closest list currently available for the top 5 Linux Distributions.

The Different Faces of Embedded Linux

Embedded devices that use Linux can be found in all walks of life.  The Nokia N900 is an example of a mobile Linux device that uses a platform known as Maemo on its ARM processor.  Outside of the mobile world, Linux can be easily found in the home with such devices as the ElectroLux Frigidaire Infinity i-Kitchen refrigerator, or the Sony Bravia HDTV.  Even toys can use embedded Linux, such as the robotic Dinosaur known as the Ugobe Pleo Dinosaur.  Outside of the home, vehicles can be found to carry Linux, such as the Mavizen’s TTX02 Motorcycle.  Embedded Linux can even be found in the Farming industry with the DeLaval Voluntary Milking system carrying Linux.

What is Android?

Android is known as, “The world’s most powerful mobile platform.” Android is an operating system designed for mobile devices. It was created in 2003, and is marketed as free, open source, and modifiable. It is owned and operated by Google. The current version of Android is based off of the Linux 3.4.10 kernel. (3.12.7 is the latest stable version). Android currently dominates the mobile OS category, as it has 51% of the US consumer smartphone market share.

Due to its modability, Android has had a difficult time remaining “pure”. Currently the Nexus devices from Google feature the latest Android versions and features, but many of the popular devices that run Android (such as devices from Samsung, Amazon, HTC, and Sony), run their own custom versions of Android. Because of this, these devices are not necessarily compatible with the latest versions of Android being released. As such the Android market is becoming more and more fragmented when it comes to versions and features.



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