For the past two years, my engineers have been digging deep into Android. We have uncovered a number of fascinating features unique to Android, the new kid on the block of mobile operating systems. Did you know that Android is more secure than Windows, Mac OS, and Linux will ever be? Thanks to its flexible modular system, Android is more malleable than gold. For developers, creating Android apps is somewhat like snapping Lego pieces together. Android continues to dazzle me.
Here, in detail, are Android's five most impressive features:
1. Android is more secure than Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.
How many times have you seen the "You'll need to provide administrator permission" popup in Windows? Do you look into it or just click "Continue?" Your Android device will never ask you this question. Android apps are never allowed admin rights, preventing many time-consuming problems. Can you imagine the effect on the GDP of the world had Windows avoided giving software admin rights?
2. Android handles memory better than any other operating system.
At first glance, "Close programs to prevent memory loss" seems like an Alzheimer's infomercial. It is yet another common Windows popup. Windows just isn't capable of closing unused programs on its own. Android handles memory in ways that make other operating systems jealous. Android quietly closes your apps, and when you reopen them, it returns you to where you were. While the apps are running in the background, they don't eat up any of your device's resources. Here's the clincher: When your device runs out of memory, Android will automatically kill the least-used tasks on its own. This gives Android a huge advantage in a touch-and-go world.
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Android never ceases to amaze me. While most operating systems invest in supporting new hardware, KitKat is "designed to run fast, smooth and responsively on a much broader range of devices than ever before -- including on millions of entry-level devices around the world that have as little as 512MB RAM," to quote Android.com. KitKat does this by streamlining every major component to reduce memory use while introducing new APIs and tools to enable developers to create memory-efficient applications.
This is great news for those of us who own older devices. It's about time someone took casual mobile users seriously. Not everyone needs a new smartphone every two years. Apple and other operating system developers should take a cue from Android; new releases should enhance performance on older hardware, not the other way around.
3. Android secures app data better than other operating systems.
Android places every app in a unique sandbox. According to Android.com, "Because each Android application operates in a process sandbox, applications must explicitly share resources and data." One app cannot see the data of another app. This puts Android in a league of its own. You can download a new app, but don't worry; it cannot access your financial data in the same way that Windows software can access a DLL file or SQL database. This is the equivalent of putting every app in quarantine, thus preventing problems from spreading. Furthermore, "Android has no mechanism for granting permissions dynamically (at run-time) because it complicates the user experience to the detriment of security." In simple English, this means that Android apps cannot change permissions after installation.
4. Android is the Lego of operating systems.
Android comes with dozens of built-in modules. Some of these include the camera, gallery, contact list, and social networking. The modules are "called" and not executed -- a much easier process than in other operating systems. My Android engineers tell me that building apps is like snapping Lego pieces together. The bottom line for consumers is that Android developers never need to reinvent the wheel.
As Android has roots in both Linux and Java, it is able to borrow from the best of both worlds. For example, SELinux is a Linux kernel security module that allows administrators to define security policies to which the kernel must adhere. Since Jelly Bean (Android 4.3), SELinux is fully supported by Android. It must have been a lot easier to port over from Linux than to write from scratch.
5. iOS borrowed from Android in many cases.
"Everyone copies Apple" is almost as big as the "Elvis isn't dead" myth. There are lots of features that first appeared on Android and later found their way to iOS. Did you know that Android was the first mobile OS to allow multitasking? While other mobile operating systems were in the ice age of frozen apps, Android was allowing device owners to open multiple apps at the same time. Another common feature that showed up on Android first is the notification bar. The challenge was for your device to notify you of a new email -- or a treasure chest in a video game -- discreetly, without taking over your screen.
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Could the growing movement toward open source hardware rewrite the rules for computer and networking hardware the way Linux, Apache, and Android have for software? Also in the Open Source Hardware issue of InformationWeek: Mark Hurd explains his "once-in-a-career opportunity" at Oracle.