iPhone now boots Linux, soon to boot Android?

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iPhone now boots Linux, soon to boot Android?

Chicago (IL) – A group of developers called The Dev Team unveiled the perhaps most
significant iPhone modification so far by porting basic parts of Linux
to the iPhone and iPod touch. The bare-bone Linux 2.6 kernel port shows
only the command line prompt, but higher-level parts of the operating
system, such as graphics and networking, are also in the works. As
exciting as it sounds, running Linux on the iPhone is most likely only
a basic step towards a far more ambitious goal – running Android on the
iPhone.
 
The Dev Team originally became famous with its iPhone jailbreaking and unlocking tools that enable users to install any iPhone application on their handset and use the phone with any GSM network. Although the developers are still improving these tools, it has been an open secret that they have been working on other projects as well. Last week, the team surprised users with a successful Linux boot on the iPhone. The achievement is considered a milestone, if not groundbreaking, since this is the first time that the iPhone is reported to run an alternative operating system.

“I am pleased to announce that the Linux 2.6 kernel has been ported to Apple’s iPhone platform, with support for the first and second generation iPhones as well as the first generation iPod touch,” the official announcement states. The developers claim that they have a rough first draft of the Linux port so it is missing many higher-level drivers. However, key components required for basic functionality and command line functionality have been ported, including basic graphics support and a serial and serial-over-USB driver. They now focus on porting other libraries and drivers as well to let Linux run a graphical user interface and use iPhone’s hardware capabilities, including the accelerometer, touchscreen, sound, NAND flash memory and networking.

Installing Linux on an iPhone or iPod touch currently involves a series of steps the developers do not recommend to those without extensive knowledge. The process basically comes down backing up the content of the device, installing the component called OpeniBoot and a basic Linux 2.6 kernel iPhone port. The former application allows the existence of multiple operating systems on the gadget. With OpeniBoot and Linux 2.6 kernel installed on your iPhone or iPod touch, users are offered a choice between the iPhone or Linux operating system when they boot the device.

You can’t do anything beyond the Linux command line at this point. Still, the milestone opens a door to something many expect with great anticipation: An Android port for the iPhone. As a matter of fact, the Dev Team is currently searching for programmers willing to help port Android to the iPhone. Since Google’s operating system is Linux-based, the first pre-requisite for the iPhone port is to actually have Linux running on the handset. More precisely, it is the only key pre-requisite since Google outsourced Android so anyone can freely download the source code and adapt the Linux-based operating system to various hardware and form factors.

Even if Apple will not support Android on the iPhone and may even take steps to prevent the software from running on its hardware, such a port will be a big deal. Android is viewed by many as the most viable challenger to the iPhone software platform, especially mid- and long-term. The ability to run a rival OS on Apple devices could be more important than the dual-boot ability of Intel-based Macs.