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back to article Meet the BlackBerry wizardry that created its 'better Android than Android'

Some remarkable technical wizardry lies behind BlackBerry’s Android coup. When it was launched in January, BlackBerry’s new OS was brand new BlackBerry 10 and largely app-less. But today it can execute Android apps at impressive speed. How did they do it? Thanks to some helpful inside knowledge, The Register will reveal it all. …

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Anonymous Coward

If it uses QNX rather than Linux, of course it is going to be better than Android...

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Anonymous Coward

"If it uses QNX rather than Linux"

I don't see why the downvote. QNX is not Unix, it is a POSIX-compliant OS designed from the bottom up for reliability and efficient multitasking in machines that are relatively light on resources. As such, it should be a better fit for a mobile phone than Android, which is based on Linux, originally conceived as a Unix-like substitute in larger machines.

Personally I use a Q10 and so have no interest in running anything Android on it, but it's an impressive engineering achievement to get Android apps working properly on the Z10/Z30.

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Every major phone OS uses a different kernel yet they all manage to provide a good user experience. The kernel is largely an irrelevance. There is absolutely nothing inherently better about QNX vs Linux as far as the end user is concerned, or the apps for that matter.

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Paris Hilton

Re:

Sexonded!

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Anonymous Coward

A microkernel has less surface for ring 0 exploits, and thus is more easily made secure than a monolithic kernel. It doesn't mean that QNX is necessarily more secure, but the potential is there.

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Anonymous Coward

"It doesn't mean that QNX is necessarily more secure"

No, not necessarily, but given that RIM (as it was) put a lot of effort into security, and also made the decision to go with QNX, we might speculate that they knew what they were doing.

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Unhappy

Re: "If it uses QNX rather than Linux"

I feel compelled to say that, whilst what you say may be essentially correct, Linux started life long enough ago that many of the phones we have in our pockets are actually of a better spec in processor and memory terms than the devices on which Linux was run back in the day. The issue is efficiency and therefore reduced power usage and, I suspect, there won't be a huge amount of difference between the two (said in an uninformed and glib manner).

I have been an Android user for several years now. The thing that I have come to dislike is the way I feel spied on by Google and its continuous slurping of data. For third party apps I never accept certain permission combinations but for those core Googly ones (like gmail and maps) you're basically stuffed because Google can do whatever it wants. On the device or 'in the cloud'. Same applies to the Play Store itself.

Not to say that I'd switch to BB. Mainly because I can't see them surviving. And I hate the Apple premium, so that's a no. Windows Phone? Not a chance; I seriously dislike the UX. So I'm left wondering if there are any decent Android branches that improve the privacy side of things...

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Re: "If it uses QNX rather than Linux"

> Linux, originally conceived as a Unix-like substitute in larger machines.

Linux originally ran on 80386 machines, which were considerably less powerful than even the most modest ARM phone.

It happens that Linux can scale from very small machines to supercomputers.

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Re: "It doesn't mean that QNX is necessarily more secure"

"No, not necessarily, but given that RIM (as it was) put a lot of effort into security, and also made the decision to go with QNX, we might speculate that they knew what they were doing."

Of course they put a lot of effort into it. They OWN QNX and it's called eating their own dogfood. One must assume if they had used another kernel they would have put an equal amount of effort into that.

Second, being a microkernel isn't any more secure or safe than a monolithic kernel. Those things are orthogonal to the general architecture. There are security enhanced versions of Linux with EAL4+ certification for example. The kernel isn't even half the story either since it could be the most secure kernel in the world but if the application layer does stupid things then it doesn't really matter.

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Re: "If it uses QNX rather than Linux"

"Linux originally ran on 80386 machines, which were considerably less powerful than even the most modest ARM phone."

QNX didn't even need that much processing power and was supported on 8088

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Re: "If it uses QNX rather than Linux"

Replicant (if your phone supports it) or CyanogenMod (again if your phone support it) and F-Droid.

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Gimp

Re: "If it uses QNX rather than Linux"

"The thing that I have come to dislike is the way I feel spied on by Google and its continuous slurping of data."

Well you are being spied upon by Google.

What happened to the "Iron" build of Chrome without most of the spying?

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Re: "If it uses QNX rather than Linux"

"... Linux, originally conceived as a Unix-like substitute in larger machines"

Hmm, not sure what you reference as "larger machines". Larger than a cell phone, sure... but back in the 1992 timeframe, when I first started using Linux (and was forever grateful to the 1993 "slackware" release of the O/S making it as easy as downloading and writing only 55 x 1.44 MB floppy disks)... it was designed for "386" processors running in the 12 to 40MHz rating... something that is dwarfed by modern cell phones.

Linux has become a system used in larger server, for sure.... but it did not start that way!

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Re: "It doesn't mean that QNX is necessarily more secure"

You can run Linux on top of a microkernel that has been done loads of times you can work out the abi.

All the formally verified systems are Microkernels.

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Re: "If it uses QNX rather than Linux"

What about CyanogenMod or KANG?

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Re: "If it uses QNX rather than Linux"

>Linux originally ran on 80386 machines, which were considerably less powerful than

>even the most modest ARM phone.

QNX originally ran on 8088 machines, which were considerably less powerful than even the most modest 80386 machines.

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Re: "It doesn't mean that QNX is necessarily more secure"

Only because formal verification is very complicated, and even then the formal verification only applies to specific compilations/implementations like that for SEL4.

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I second that motion

The QNX engineering team is awesome.

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Re: I second that motion

Yeah but at this point we have to trust inept BB management to have not laid off the good engineering talent. Considering how middle management in any company prefers the own horn tooters and butt kissers to the good people good luck with that.

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+1 to El Reg

... for using the correct meaning of the word "hack".

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To quote Ian Dury ...

... there ain't half been some clever bastards.

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Re: To quote Ian Dury ...

Lucky bleeders, lucky bleeders

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"Android runs Java applications on a JVM called Dalvik"

No it doesn't. It runs Android applications on a VM called Dalvik. The language is quite similar to Java, but it isn't Java, and Dalvik isn't a JVM.

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Well done guys, plenty of overtime coming up

I won't pretend to understand what they've achieved in any depth, but often the problem with hacks like this is that they are built on platform idiosyncrasies and have no resilience to future change. So at best they have a maintenance headache and at worst the house of cards comes tumbling down.

Why invest in the BB ecosystem on the hope it'll run android apps for the foreseeable future - just buy android!.

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Re: Well done guys, plenty of overtime coming up

Those were might thoughts exactly. Id imagine that every time Google update the Android API's, and particularly when they do a major release (Android 5 anyone) that the foundation of the House of Cards will be undermined extensively.

Id rather see them invest in porting their technology to Android or (shudder) Windows Phone. A 'powered by Android, secured by Blackberry' device could be a big seller in the corporate world.

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Re: Well done guys, plenty of overtime coming up

Based on current form; given that Google have taken baby steps into phone production and that they have all those partners to keep sweet, I'd say that they'll make a point of breaking things for Blackberry on the next release.

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Re: Well done guys, plenty of overtime coming up

Google undoubtedly makes more $$ per BB user than per Android user, because the average Android user is so stinkin' cheap.

In fact, I'll bet Google is giving BB a hand on this project, and that the Chocolate factory is more than happy to see their own Android apps like Chrome, the Gmail app, Maps - work natively on the BB platform.

Google already has massive market share with Android - 2/3 of tablets and 4/5 of phones worldwide. They don't need much more market share, they need access to more eyeballs for their ads. BB can give them a few more eyeballs, and a few more lucrative ones at that.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Well done guys, plenty of overtime coming up

Because most android devices are cheap feeling pieces of plastic. I've owned 3 of them, and they all felt like a kid's toy. I'd rather use an iphone instead of an android these days. I settled for the best though and decided on Blackberry 10 - and now I have a plethora of apps available. Awesome time to own a Blackberry!

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Re: Well done guys, plenty of overtime coming up

I don't think that is a real problem, since this works at the Linux system call level.

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Re: Well done guys, plenty of overtime coming up

I would think it will start happening sooner than that. Android 4.4 KitKat introduces the new Android Runtime (ART). The big feature of ART is precompiling Dalvik apps upon installation. Seems a bit rough around the edges, but it definitely shows where they're going.

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@ ElNumbre

'powered by Android, secured by [insert_any_name]' ...

Isn't this a contradiction in terms?

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Unhappy

Re: Well done guys, plenty of overtime coming up

"Based on current form; given that Google have taken baby steps into phone production and that they have all those partners to keep sweet, I'd say that they'll make a point of breaking things for Blackberry on the next release."

The old MS strategy of "Windows ain't done will Lotus won't run?"

Surely not.

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Re: Well done guys, plenty of overtime coming up

If they do break things for Blackberry, they also break things for earlier versions of Android, and people don't upgrade that quickly.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Well done guys, plenty of overtime coming up

The hack is at the syscall and POSIX layers, well below all the stuff that makes Android Android. These low-level interfaces don't churn much.

That said, outside the native extensions hack, the Android player needs to thunk a lot of Android services to BB10 equivalents, and this can be labour intensive to maintain through future gyrations of Android.

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Anonymous Coward

Does anybody actually know of anyone that actually uses blackberry ?

I knew one guy who loved them right up to the point they gave up their records after the riots. Hearing him scream about police state for weeks afterwards was very funny.

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Yeah, what an idiot. He should have trusted all his personal information to Google, they never pry...

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Coffee/keyboard

Erm yes

and be careful with your phone, it sounds like your "friends" would very likely just stea your ifad/milky way (Other forms of communication available) whilst you arent looking

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Anonymous Coward

Yes. I use one. I'm tired of android being a buggy piece of crap, crashing, constantly seeing "com.(whatever) has stopped responding - Force Close or Wait". I switched to iphone, which was a bigger mistake. I'm completely happy and satisfied now with Blackberry.

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I will soon

Use BB10 as an Android app launcher or Android as an Android app launcher? Hmm easy choice. I had a Q10 and loved the wonderful HUB and multitasker. Loved the phone but lost it. Replaced it with a Nexus 4 because I wanted a few Android apps that the Q10 was missing. But Android itself does not compare to the BB10 messaging experience with the HUB. Now that I can launch most Android apps from BB10, I ordered the Z30. So I am one who will own a BlackBerry. Can't wait to get it.

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Actually thats Blackberry doomed

MS will employ the whizz kids to get VBA running on RT.

Poor buggers.

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Apple and Google will love these guys.

Whilst I was reading about this impressive piece of wizardry, I had images of Apple and Google head-hunters circling around Waterloo, Ontario like vultures around a dead horse.

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Not surprising

*BSD has been doing this for years. Linux/MIPS was also able to do this with some SGI IRIX binaries, although from what I heard, it could only emulate a subset of IRIX 5.x syscalls.

WINE also does similar things to get Windows code to run on Linux and BSD… a PECOFF loader pulls the application into memory from the .exe file and any .dll's (since Linux only natively understands ELF and a.out) then the linker goes hunting for the Linux-native implementations of bits that are missing.

Still, good on them for giving it a go, hopefully it works out for them.

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Re: Not surprising

To be fair to the guys, saying that another OS/Kernel/whatever already does it does them down. Writing the code to get in working in your specific situation is a different order from asking if it can be done

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naw

Re: Not surprising

And IBMs AIX (Power Unix) did it for Linux with Lx86, and SCO Unix did it for AT&T Unix, I'm sure there's others - I'm not putting down BB's technical capability here, certainly it's beyond me to do the same, but I do wonder if they put a lot of effort into the wrong area. They now have to maintain compatibility with the Android Appstore, App Developers won't care about BB compatibility, so BB will have to make ALL of th effort and as Android develops that will become more and more difficult. IMO, they should have bit the bullet and gone down the Android (or Cyanogen or Replicant or some other Android Fork) and produce their own Android fork, but Hardened and Optimised for Business users with all the sort of back end services and integration that business users might want.

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The next step

Blackberry should just make an Android handset. It doesn't stop them from adding value add to their solution in terms of secure storage, remote wipe, a UI optimized for email, an app store with secure audited apps etc. But just running Android would do a lot to improve its chances in the market place.

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Re: The next step

A bit like Samsung's KNOX efforts, then?

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Re: The next step

Well yes, but of course Blackberry has been at this game a lot longer and has a reputation for it. They could trade off that reputation while still producing a device that benefits from being a true android handset.

Perhaps Google, Samsung and Blackberry should all part of the same initiative and differentiate at the UI level.

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Re: The next step

Producing an Android handset running their customized BBRY platform should have been priority from day one.

I do appreciate the technical mastery of the QNX guys, but at the same time it is a colossal waste of time when you think they could have just tweaked Android to make their own BBRY Android and they wouldn't have had to resort to hacking tricks.

Like someone said in the thread, I bet this doesn't work to RIMs advantage and plays more like it did for OS/2 to run Windows apps.

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Re: The next step

But I don't like the Android experience and absolutely love the Blackberry one. I can handle running some apps written for Android on the Blackberry platform but that is it. No there has to be others who prefer the superior user experience of the BB10 and would not want BB to be just another Android knock off. No thanks. I like the exclusivity of the brand no matter how small it is.

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naw

Re: The next step

Yep - I think that they have invested so much into BB/QNX, they can't bring themselves to about-turn and admit it's a cul-de-sac. The Windows/OS2 scenario is a good observation

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