annotate www/about.html @ 1387:a0d26c5e3271 draft

Release notes for 0.4.9.
author Rob Landley <rob@landley.net>
date Mon, 07 Jul 2014 07:32:56 -0500
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1 <html><head><title>What is toybox?</title>
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2 <!--#include file="header.html" -->
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3
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4 <h2><a name="what" />What is ToyBox?</h2>
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6 <p>Toybox combines the most common Linux command line utilities together into
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7 a single <a href=license.html>BSD-licensed</a> executable. It's simple, small, fast, and reasonably
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8 standards-compliant (<a href=http://opengroup.org/onlinepubs/9699919799>POSIX-2008</a> and <a href=http://refspecs.linuxfoundation.org/LSB_4.1.0>LSB 4.1</a>).</p>
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10 <p>Toybox's 1.0 release goal is to turn generic Android into a
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11 development environment capable of compiling <a href=http://www.linuxfromscratch.org>Linux From Scratch</a>.
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12 A tiny system <a href=/aboriginal>built from</a> just toybox, linux, <a href=http://musl-libc.org>a C library</a>, and a C compiler (such as LLVM or
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13 gcc 4.2.1+binutils 2.17) should be
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14 able to rebuild itself from source code without needing any other packages.</p>
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15
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16 <b><h2><a name="status" />What commands are implemented in Toybox?</h2></b>
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17
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18 <p>The current list of commands implemented by toybox is on the
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19 <a href=status.html>status page</a>, which is updated each release.
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20 There is also <a href=roadmap.html>roadmap</a> listing all planned commands for the
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21 1.0 release.</p>
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22
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23 <p>In general, configuring toybox for "defconfig" enables all the commands
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24 compete enough to be useful. Configuring "allyesconfig" enables partially
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25 implemented commands as well, along with debugging features.</p>
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26
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27 <p>Several toybox commands can do things other vesions can't. For example
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28 the toybox "df" isn't confused by initramfs the way other df implementations
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29 are. (If initramfs is visible, df shows it like any other mount point.)</p>
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30
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31 <b><h3>Command Shell</h3></b>
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32 <p>The Toybox Shell (toysh) aims to be a reasonable bash replacement. It
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33 implements the "sh" and "toysh" commands, plus the built-in commands "cd" and
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34 "exit". This is the largest single sub-project in toybox.</p>
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35
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36 <p>The following additional commands may be built into the shell (but not as
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37 separate executables): cd, exit, if, while, for, function, fg, bg, jobs, source,
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38 <a href="http://opengroup.org/onlinepubs/9699919799/utilities/alias.html">alias</a>,
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39 export, set, unset, read, trap, and exec. (Note: not done yet.)</p>
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40
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41 </ul>
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42
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43 <h2><a name="commands" />Which commands are planned?</h2>
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44
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45 <p>The toybox <a href=todo.txt>todo list</a> mentions many potential commands
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46 which may be added to this project. (Whether that file is readable by anybody
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47 but the project's maintainer is open to debate.) The roadmap wiki in the
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48 nav bar has a more human readable version.</p>
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49
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50 <p>The criteria for a toybox 1.0 release is that a system built from just the
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51 Linux kernel, toybox, C library (such as uClibc), and a compiler (such as
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52 tinycc) can rebuild itself from source code.</p>
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54 <b><h3>Relevant Standards</h3></b>
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55
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56 <p>Most commands are implemented according to
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57 <a href=http://opengroup.org/onlinepubs/9699919799/idx/utilities.html>The
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58 Single Unix Specification version 4</a> where applicable. This does not mean
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59 that Toybox is implementing every SUSv4 utility: some such as SCCS and ed are
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60 obsolete, while others such as c99 are outside the scope of the project.
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61 Toybox also isn't implementing full internationalization support: it should be
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62 8-bit clean and handle UTF-8, but otherwise we leave this to X11 and higher
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63 layers. And some things (like $CDPATH support in "cd") await a good
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64 explanation of why to bother with them. (The standard provides an important
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65 frame of reference, but is not infallable set of commandments to be blindly
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66 obeyed.)</p>
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67
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68 <p>The other major sources of commands are the Linux man pages, and testing
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69 the behavior of existing commands (although not generally looking at their
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70 source code), including the commands in Android's toolbox. SUSv4 does not
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71 include many basic commands such as "mount", "init", and "mke2fs", which are
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72 kind of nice to have.</p>
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74 <b><h2><a name="downloads" />Download</h2></b>
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75
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76 <p>This project is maintained as a mercurial archive. To get a copy of the
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77 current development version, either use mercurial (hg clone
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78 http://landley.net/hg/toybox) or click on one of the zip/gz/bz2 links
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79 at the top of the <a href=/hg/toybox>mercurial archive browser</a> page to get
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80 an archive of the appropriate version. Click
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81 <a href="/hg/toybox?cmd=tags">tags</a> to see all the tagged release
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82 versions ("tip" is the current development version).</p>
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83
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84 <p>The maintainer's <a href=/notes.html>development log</a> and the project's
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85 <a href=http://lists.landley.net/listinfo.cgi/toybox-landley.net>mailing
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86 list</a> are also good ways to track what's going on with the project.</p>
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87
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88 <!--
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89 <b><h2><a name="why">Why do toybox?</h2></b>
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90
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91 <p>Because smart phones are replacing the PC, and Android must become
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92 self-hosting to beat the iPhone in establishing the new standard.</p>
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93
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94 <p>This is the third such major transition in computer history:
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95 (mainframe-&gt;minicomputer-&gt;microcomputer-&gt;smartphone).
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96 The mainframe was replaced by the minicomputer, which was replaced by
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97 the microcomputer (renamed the "personal" computer to make clear you could
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98 access porn through it), which is being replaced by the smartphone. Nobody
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99 needed to wait for printouts from a big computer in another building when they
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100 could use a little one down the hall. Then nobody needed the big computer
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101 down the hall when they had a little one on their desk. Now nobody needs the
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102 big computer on their desk when they have a little one in their pocket.</p>
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103
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104 <p>The new platform displaces the old when it becomes natively self hosting.
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105 Often they leverage existing technology: just as early microcmputers used
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106 teletypes and televisions for output, phones can use
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107 <a href=http://us.toshiba.com/accessory/PA3575U-1PRP>USB docking stations</a>
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108 to access a bigger screen, mouse, keyboard, speakers, etc. Plugging a phone into
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109 USB even charges the battery. But to use the phone as a development
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110 workstation, it needs more software, such as a Posix command line, a native
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111 compiler, and drivers for the USB peripherals.</p>
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112
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113 <p>The new platform also eventually weans itself off of its dominant language.
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114 Dalvik is to Android what ROM Basic was to the PC: something it must
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115 eventually outgrow. Thus toybox is native C code, not Java.</p>
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116
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117 <b><h3>So why aren't self-hosting smartphones attracting more attention?</h3></b>
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118
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119 <p>Because most people are focusing on the legacy platforms, not on the new
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120 stuff. Existing multi-billion dollar industries are getting evicted from their
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121 decades-old established niche, and are trying to spin the transition as an
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122 opportunity instead of a forced march onto reservations. When elephants run
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123 from mice, it's easier to notice the elephants.</p>
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124
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125 <p>History's our guide here: the previous technology always gets kicked up into
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126 the "server space", moving from "the thing you stood in front of waiting for
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127 your printout" to "that thing you sometimes accessed remotely via the new
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128 computer". This time around they're calling it "the cloud" and pretending it's
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129 a big deal; it's really just a beowulf cluster with a layer of
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130 virtualization/containerization software implementing hotplug hardware and
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131 live migration to provide cheap
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132 commodity processing power that dominant players (like amazon) literally
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133 give away for free. These old machines become secondary, only
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134 accessed through the new machines users now directly interact with.</p>
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135
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136 <p>Since there's only one server space, the mainframe ate the minicomputer in
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137 the 1980's (when DEC went under), and this time around "the cloud" seems to be
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138 eating the mainframe (IBM ain't happy). The inevitable consolidation leads
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139 to drama, but doesn't mean much in the long run.</p>
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140
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141 <p><a href=http://landley.net/notes-2012.html#12-07-2012>For more
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142 on this topic...</a></p>
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143
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144 <b><h3><a name="why_android">Why is Android important?</h2></b>
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145
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146 <p>Major hardware transitions introduce
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147 <a href=http://landley.net/notes-2011.html#26-06-2011>new software
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148 standards</a> which are extremely sticky once
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149 established, due to network effects.</p>
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150
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151 <p>Last time around, the PC was stuck with
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152 a proprietary operating system (DOS/Windows) which is still dominant on that
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153 hardware platform's descendants 30 years later. This time around, the choice
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154 is between Android (a Linux derivative) and iPhone (a closed BSD fork ala
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155 SunOS, put out by a company already engaged in multiple aggressive IP lawsuits).
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156 The main difference between Apple and Microsoft is that Apple is competent.</p>
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157
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158 <p>And yes, it has to be Android, it won't be vanilla Linux any time soon,
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159 for three reasons. 1) <a href=http://landley.net/notes-2010.html#13-08-2010>Open
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160 Source can't do user interfaces</a> for about the same reason wikipedia can't
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161 write a novel, 2) it's too late to the
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162 party (a 5 year headstart is forever in computers), 3) preinstalls matter
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163 (GPLv3 spooked all the hardware vendors, Android has a "no GPL in
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164 userspace" policy which is rigidly enforced).</p>
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165
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166 <p>And "any time soon" is important: attempting to displace an existing
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167 entrenched de-facto standard is what linux has spent the last 20
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168 years trying (and failing) to do on the desktop. Spending another 20
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169 years fighting for less than 1% of the phone market would just be sad.</p>
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170
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171 <b><h3><a name="how_google">How is Google less evil than Apple?</h3></b>
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172
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173 <p>Because Android isn't Google's core business, attaching advertising to large
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174 scale data searches is. Android and Chrome and such are Google's way of
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175 "commoditizing their co-factors" to drive down the price of ingredients
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176 to their core business.</p>
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177
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178 <p>Thus Google is pursuing a commodity market and encouring as many vendors as
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179 possible to participate, not to control the new space but to hold it open,
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180 so that its search products are widely available without requiring the
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181 permission of some other monopoly gatekeeper. Apple is attemping to corner the
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182 smartphone market and extract monopoly rents, excluding all
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183 vendors except itself.</p>
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184
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185 <p>So if Google wins we get a commodity market in smartphone/tablet software,
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186 and may be able to open it further in future. If Apple wins we get a proprietary
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187 smartphone/tablet OS with a single monopoly vendor, which is likely to close it
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188 further.</p>
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189
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190 <b><h3>Why not just use BusyBox?</h3></b>
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191
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192 <p>Android can't. Busybox predates android
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193 by many years; if they were ever going to ship it they'd have done so by
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194 now. Android has had a "No GPL in Userspace" policy ever since GPLv3
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195 came out (before the first Android phone shipped), and they mean it.</p>
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196
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197 <p>Toybox also has a better design and simpler code. I did both
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198 and this is the one I enjoy banging on; I tried to contribute a few things
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199 to busybox and it was like crawling through a thornbush of #ifdefs. Busybox
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200 development is just no fun anymore.</p>
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201
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202 -->
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203
360
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204 <b><h2><a name="toycans" />What's the toybox logo image?</h2></b>
227
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205
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206 <p>It's <a href=toycans-big.jpg>carefully stacked soda cans</a>. Specifically,
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207 it's a bunch of the original "Coke Zero" and "Pepsi One" cans, circa 2006,
228
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208 stacked to spell out the binary values of the ascii string "Toybox", with
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209 null terminator at the bottom. (The big picture's on it's side because
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210 the camera was held sideways to get a better shot.)</p>
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211
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212 <p>No, it's not photoshopped, I actually had these cans until a coworker
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213 who Totally Did Not Get It <sup><font size=-3><a href=http://www.timesys.com>tm</a></font></sup> threw them out one day after I'd gone home,
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214 thinking they were recycling. (I still have two of each kind, but
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215 Pepsi One seems discontinued and Coke Zero switched its can color
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216 from black to grey, presumably in celebration. It was fun while it lasted...)</p>
365
8f0b24cc7cd7 Minor web page updates (put header/footer back, add a few <hr> tags).
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217
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218 <!--#include file="footer.html" -->