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Google's 'Project Treble' Could Lead To Faster Android Updates (arstechnica.com) 83

Thelasko quotes a report from Ars Technica: Ahead of Google I/O, Google has just dropped a bombshell of a blog post that promises, for real this time, that it is finally doing something about Android's update problems. "Project Treble" is a plan to modularize the Android OS, separating the OS framework code from "vendor specific" hardware code. In theory, this change would allow for a new Android update to be flashed on a device without any involvement from the silicon vendor. Google calls it "the biggest change to the low-level system architecture of Android to date," and it's already live on the Google Pixel's Android O Developer Preview. This is not a magic bullet that will solve all of Android's update problems, however. After an update is released, Google lists three steps to creating an Android update:

1. Silicon manufacturers (Qualcomm, Samsung Exynos, etc) "modify the new release for their specific hardware" and do things like make sure drivers and power management will still work.
2. OEMs (Samsung, LG, HTC) step in and "modify the new release again as needed for their devices." This means making sure all the hardware works, rebranding Android with a custom skin, adding OEM apps, and modifying core parts of the Android OS to add special features like (before 7.0) multi-window support.
3. Carriers add more apps, more branding, and "test and certify the new release."

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Google's 'Project Treble' Could Lead To Faster Android Updates

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  • That's nice but... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Aighearach ( 97333 ) on Saturday May 13, 2017 @01:56PM (#54411381) Homepage

    More and more I just want a mobile linux device that isn't android and isn't easy/consumerified and just has mobile data and I can use SIP or other IP-phone.

    What I don't need is for my mobile device to update more often! What I need is for it to want updates less often.

    I don't want new features unless there is hardware that is finally small enough to be mobile. And when it happens, I want it to use one of the existing computer interface paradigms.

    • More and more I just want a mobile linux device that isn't android and isn't easy/consumerified and just has mobile data and I can use SIP or other IP-phone.

      What I don't need is for my mobile device to update more often! What I need is for it to want updates less often.

      I don't want new features unless there is hardware that is finally small enough to be mobile. And when it happens, I want it to use one of the existing computer interface paradigms.

      Yes, but KB0337827328 fixes the Tagalog rendering issue!

      That's been on our books for years now, and it's something you want!

      • If you're Filipino, then yes.

        Why should US English be the only consideration of a multinational company?

        • Why should US English be the only consideration of a multinational company?

          Because I have yet to see a project, proprietary or free, translate a non-trivial piece of software in a way that doesn't make a native speaker wonder "what the hell this means?" for 2/3 or more menu entries/etc.

    • Ah. So you don't want a phone.

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        Well, yeah, that is exactly correct. When I bought my first and still only smart phone a note 3, I wanted all the other things other than mobile phone service. A stylus because manly fingers get in the way, a bigger screen because older eyes, expandable storage (don't have to fuss with stored images and video, just keep adding it), a user removable battery because I am not a gullible fool to be sold a scam, satnav, camera, video recorder and the phone bit well that is just a chip. To be honest I want to mak

    • by GNious ( 953874 )

      Every time I see these, I reply: Tried Jolla?

      • No, people don't actually try vaporware, they just refer to it on the internet as if it is a thing.

        • by GNious ( 953874 )

          Shit, you're telling my phone is vaporware? ...explains why no-one calls :(

          • I don't doubt you somehow received one, or maybe you live in a small country where it is sold. It is not a thing that is available to the public for purchase, however.

            Which is a rather important detail if you "always" are trying to advertise for them.

            • by GNious ( 953874 )

              You mean the small "country" of Europe, where it was readily available via Jolla's online store? Or India, where Intex sold a Sailfish device named Aqua Fish? Or whatever country Amazon.com covers, since a quick googling says the latter is available there (might be trolls) ?

              Look, I get it, you're sad you missed out on getting one, or perhaps live in a country too hostile for Jolla to release their product in, but if it was released, with 3 different devices running SailfishOS, 2 of which were generally avai

              • Keyword might have been "was."

                Check if there "is" and online store, or if it "is" available on Amazon.

                And no, Europe isn't a country.

                Also, a sony phone running SailfishOS is not a Jolla phone, it is a Sony phone.

                I didn't "miss out" at all, if you actually read what I said I was looking for you'd understand that "limited time only" is not a commodity phone. It is exactly the same as any other proprietary crap-ware. I never said I'm interested in a new proprietary OS based on linux that is running on propriet

  • If I am correct... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ebrandsberg ( 75344 ) on Saturday May 13, 2017 @02:04PM (#54411403)

    This will allow third party ROMs to be built and released for nearly every phone much more easily. I envision the golden age of customized ROMs on the way.

    • This will allow third party ROMs to be built and released for nearly every phone much more easily. I envision the golden age of customized ROMs on the way.

      It will make ROMs much easier for devices that have unlockable bootloaders (note that bootloader unlocking is completely different from carrier unlocking). But at the same time, SELinux, verified boot and other platform security improvements are making it much harder to find exploitable vulnerabilities that allow rooting/modding of phones that aren't unlockable by design.

      If you want to be able to use custom ROMs, be sure to buy a device with an unlockable bootloader. All devices sold by Google are unlocka

    • Good thing too since they still haven't released Xposed for Nougat.
  • PR spin? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Is it just me, or did Google's PR team just announce a hardware abstraction layer and everybody went nuts?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So, what will this do for the Android 4.2, 4.4 and 6.0 tablets I already own and are stuck at those versions? Do they continue to be abandonware?

    If Google tells me I just need buy one more tablet, and it'll get system updates, "for real this time, no matter what the hardware manufacturers say or do", they can go fuck themselves. I'm done with Android.

    • by Jamu ( 852752 )
      Yup. If they can't provide updates for their own stuff, I doubt this will lead to updates for third-party stuff.
    • I've held out against getting an iPhone for years now, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to go to the 8 when it comes out. Nexus 6P is a decent phone, and I really do prefer the Android way of doing things, but the fact that Google is killing upgrades at exactly the two-year mark on a flagship phone is bullshit.
      • Nexus devices fetch a reasonable price on ebay for community modders content to run Lineage OS (or equiv) on flagship hardware from 2 years ago.

        Bye bye vendor support and 'stock' though.

  • Somehow the summary only presents the problems of the current situation (pre-project treble), instead of summarizing the key ideas of the proposal (which is very interesting, by the way). Some excerpts from the link that would help understand:

    Project Treble aims to do what CTS [Compatibility Test Suite (CTS), more than a million tests to validate API compatibility] did for apps, for the Android OS framework. The core concept is to separate the vendor implementation — the device-specific, lower-level s

    • Ah, a hardware abstraction abstraction layer.

      Yet Another Abstraction layer?

      It's layers all the way down?

      • Yep. That's exactly the conclusion I came to.

        • by Lennie ( 16154 )

          A smartphone is a computer and it's layers/abstractions all the way down, it's always been that way.

          This actually doesn't sound like an abstraction, this looks more like:

          on this layer, these APIs are for you to update and these APIs are for us to update.

          • It hasn't always been that way. Sound on the Apple IIe was accomplished by reading a certain memory location that was physically wired to a speaker, very very fast.

  • by theshowmecanuck ( 703852 ) on Saturday May 13, 2017 @03:48PM (#54411685) Journal
    If the vendors like Samsung... like SAMSUNG... don't want to role out Android updates in a timely manner, you still won't get them in a timely manner. Or ever.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    So, basically, Google is going to push Agile updates on everyone, and turn the userbase into alpha testers instead of just beta testers.

    I can't wait.

  • nice that it's modular. sucks that the phone maker, chipset foundry, and carrier are still in the mix, because they don't move an inch on old phones they no longer make. so, great effort and cost for nothing. sorry, still as stiff as Gargoyle on updating.

  • I Wonder what this means in the kernel.

    But a shame as this would seem to remove a lever to help push hw vendors to GPL their drivers.

    Why don't Google push vendors to open source if they want to be part of Android. Which is a pretty big stick.

    • by tepples ( 727027 )

      Probably because the cellular radio standards are subject to royalty-bearing software patents, and one of the GPL's reasons for existence in the first place is to prevent royalty-bearing software patents from harming the Free World.

      • by Lennie ( 16154 )

        "cellular radio standards are subject to royalty-bearing software patents", aren't those just part of the base band processor ?

        That would not impact anything of the rest of the phone.

        Also it's not only the patents, also the laws and regulations which restrict what you can do.

        • by tepples ( 727027 )

          "cellular radio standards are subject to royalty-bearing software patents", aren't those just part of the base band processor ?

          First, baseband firmware is a "binary blob" that would likely get a device disqualified from Free Software Foundation's "Respects Your Freedom" certification program.

          Second, I was under the impression that at least back in the Java ME and BREW days, some devices ran the baseband and the applications under a real-time OS in subsets of the same memory space. Is this organization obsolete nowadays?

          Third, my prior comment was incomplete. The cellular radio isn't the only part of a communication standards suite

          • "First, baseband firmware is a "binary blob" that would likely get a device disqualified from Free Software Foundation's "Respects Your Freedom" certification program."

            But that is totally irrelevant to whether the software is respecting the GPLv2 or not.

            Consider an alternative where the firmware was not distributed with the O.S. (and required separate flashing to update it). For example, a totally free distro isn't considered GPL-infringing because it was provided with a computer that has a non-free BIOS.

      • "and one of the GPL's reasons for existence in the first place is to prevent royalty-bearing software patents from harming the Free World."

        Maybe you mean the GPLv3. The GPLv2, the version of the licence used by the Linux kernel, was written before software patents were such a problem, and doesn't have soecific requirements regarding patent licensing that the GPLv3 has.

        • Maybe you mean the GPLv3.

          I meant GPLv2.

          The GPLv2, the version of the licence used by the Linux kernel, was written before software patents were such a problem, and doesn't have soecific requirements regarding patent licensing that the GPLv3 has.

          Though the patent provisions the GPLv2 [gnu.org] are less "soecific" than those in the GPLv3, they still exist. GPLv2 section 7 bans licensees of Linux from adding patented code under a royalty-bearing license and then distributing the result:

          If you cannot distribute so as to satisfy simultaneously your obligations under this License and any other pertinent obligations, then as a consequence you may not distribute the Program at all. For example, if a patent license would not permit royalty-free redistr

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      I Wonder what this means in the kernel.

      But a shame as this would seem to remove a lever to help push hw vendors to GPL their drivers.

      Why don't Google push vendors to open source if they want to be part of Android. Which is a pretty big stick.

      First off, the reason Android is Apache and not GPL is simple - no hardware vendor in the world would bother with Android if it was GPL. If they did, Linux would be completely popular and available for all SoCs out there. (No, they aren't. And our company produces Linux

      • I'm not sure I buy any of this. HW vendors couldn't afford to ignore Android. Its just to big.

        An opportunity missed to force some level of driver GPL ing

        • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

          I'm not sure I buy any of this. HW vendors couldn't afford to ignore Android. Its just to big.

          An opportunity missed to force some level of driver GPL ing

          Perhaps NOW they can't. But back in the Android 1.x days, Android could be ignored. And had Android been GPL then, it would've been like other GPL phone projects like OpenMoko and others.

          The fact that Android allowed closed development was the main reason why it got so big. The GPL would never have worked in making Android popular.

          Hell, I'm sure Google coul

    • "Why don't Google push vendors to open source if they want to be part of Android. Which is a pretty big stick."

      The end of the blog post says:
      "In addition to the architectural changes, we're working with our silicon and device partners to take their code changes, such as features for a carrier network in a specific country, and move them into the common Android Open Source Project (AOSP) codebase. For example, Sony and Qualcomm contributed dozens of features and hundreds of bugfixes to Android O so they no l

  • Do the carriers really even want to update ? I think they want the OS to grow stale and to use that as a reason to force users to update to this weeks new hardware. The cost of maintaining the branded OS and apps on last springs 'in' phone or device is not worth it for them, they just want you to by the 'new' fashion accessory phone. Cobalt blue is the new 'secure' device dejour.

    • Part of me wants to suggest we say "fuck it" and factor historical lack of updates into our purchase decisions. That is, purposely buy phones based on lack of updates, given that we know they will eventually get hacked.

      And when they do, the entire lot of us stick it to the manufacturers, who refused to provide updates, in the form of a series of class action suits, one for each model sold in each market, layered atop one for each manufacturer in each market.

      Vendors don't provide updates right now becaus
      • Actually, mobile android devices that 'can not be updated' are the ones that the OEM and Vendor can't bugfix. Which are the devices that it should in many cases eventually be possible to jailbreak and free.

        • Eh? Which Android devices exist that cannot be updated by the OEM? We're talking about devices that aren't updated. There's a pretty big difference.
      • the entire lot of us stick it to the manufacturers, who refused to provide updates, in the form of a series of class action suits

        Under what legal theory would a remedy be available at law? My first guess is the implied warranty of merchantability [wikipedia.org], that Internet-connected computers without security updates are not "fit for the purposes such goods are ordinarily used." But if you plan to sue on grounds of failure to honor the implied warranty, I thought it was common practice for manufacturers to disclaim implied warranties after a product's express warranty has expired.

        If it depends on the jurisdiction, use the United States as an exa

        • Also my home country, thanks.

          A company can disclaim liability for the end user's actions or modifications, and they may limit how long they will warrant a product to be free of manufacturing defects; however, it is not unheard of and would not be unexpected for the court to expect maintenance services (such as software updates) to be made available for a duration exceeding the average usable life of a product, especially when lack of such maintenance is likely to result in financial or social harm to the
          • The law, specifically around automobiles, stipulates that manufacturers must allow aftermarket parts to be manufactured and sold, so there are still parts available and plenty of places to have a vehicle serviced even after the manufacturer shuts down the lines.

            Not so for phones.

            Are John Deere tractors more like automobiles or more like phones? See "American Farmers Are Still Fighting Tractor Software Locks [slashdot.org]".

            • Therein lies the rub. John Deere can't stop a 3rd party from making an aftermarket ECU, control unit, or diagnostic unit, but copyright law dictates that anyone wishing to do so must not use John Deere's copyrighted software in order to do so unless they have John Deere's permission to use it. No law says they have to licence their copyrights, only that they have to not sue to prevent the sale and manufacture of parts. There is a healthy aftermarket for parts for John Deere tractors which can be replaced wi
    • I bought an high-quality phone over 3 1/2 years ago, and it's still perfectly functional, but gets no more security updates. Essentially, I'm screwed as soon as the next major issue hits that has no mitigation. Even Google, with their high-end Pixel devices, apparently only guarantees security patches for 3 years from launch or 18 months from buy date, whichever is longer. That's pretty lame for an $800 phone.

      If HTC wanted to get back into the market, they should sell high-end phones and guarantee five y

  • Google has already done that partially by putting a lot of functionality into Google Play Services, but it would be nice to be able to get security fixes from Google instead of having the OEM's in the way.

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus

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