How long has it been since I wrote a blatantly evangelical and vaguely activist article about Linux? Too long.
At its core (or more precisely, kernel), Android is a flavor of Linux. I'm over-simplifying here, but not for the sake of our readers as much as my own. Let it be said that Android is based on Linux. Google has built their own software stack upon the Linux kernel, and this is where Google has grafted a large and important branch onto the bewildering tree that is the Linux timeline. While GNU/Linux and Android share the same roots, the two are discrete - at least as far as the end user is concerned. And while they do intend on making Android truly open source at some point, I don't believe Google has any plans for allowing Linux apps to run natively under Android.
The technical reasons for this are beyond my current knowledge, but I understand enough to know that I'd like to run my favorite Linux apps under Android. I use Linux as my primary OS for work, education, networking, entertainment, time-killing, etc. The only time I stray is when I'm working on my video editing skills. (Mac takes the cake here. Sorry, Tux. I hope you'll catch up eventually - same goes for audio production, though the community has come farther in this regard.) So, spending 90% of my time running Linux, I have come to rely on some open source main-stays that sync up data on multiple computers, under each of the several operating systems they are capable of booting into.
I love Android, but a large part of what got me excited when I first heard about it was the fact that a big company with some clout and vision would be placing a stable, supported Linux device in my hand. I am not disappointed with the environment they have created. But it doesn't feel much like Linux. I have no root privileges, and I can't run any of the programs I've come to love since my induction into the Linux family.
People have tried to address these concerns in some diverse and ingenious ways, but all of them are hacks. I refuse to hack my G1, because I do reviews for the average consumer. If I run a rooted version of Android, I will have an entirely different experience than people running the official, stock version. My reviews would be irrelevant to all but a few hackers. I could install a Debian shell and use vnc to get a working x11 desktop, but that's hardly Android at all. So what can Linux enthusiasts do to keep Android from becoming any more removed from its roots?
Of everything I've read, the best answer is a sandbox. I'm not going to pretend I know anything about coding, so I'll stick with lay terms here. A sandbox is a software container in which programs can run without having any potentially dangerous access to the host software. In Android, this would mean a virtualized environment where Linux programs could run. Android would take care of the core OS responsibilities, and the sandbox would provide resources that Linux apps need. This is explained much better by the man who birthed the idea and is currently making proposals - Kevin Lawton.
These issues may not seem too pressing at the moment. But Android is coming to the netbook, eventually. And I'm glad to see that someone is out there, working on a solution to the problem all Linux junkies pondered when they received their G1 - and that they are also keeping Google in check, in a way.