Android 3.0 Kept Under Wraps

Google to Withhold Honeycomb Source Code for “Foreseeable Future”

Jessica Thornsby

Andy Rubin says Google aren’t releasing the Android 3.0 code just yet.

According to an article published by BusinessWeek, Google will delay the release of
the Honeycomb source code “for the foreseeable future,” in an
effort to prevent it from being altered by external programmers and
customised for devices other than tablets. Some websites have
theorised that Google may even wait until completing the next
version of Android – codenamed Ice Cream – before releasing the
next open source distribution of Android software.

Previously, Google have employed the strategy of allowing device
makers early access to new Android releases, before making the
source code publicly available a few months later. Large
manufacturers, including HTC, Samsung Electronics, Motorola
Mobility Holdings, reportedly already have access to Honeycomb –
but the smaller hardware makers and the software developer
community will have to wait a while longer. Brian Proffitt warns that this strategy could
land Google in fresh lawsuits, as smaller hardware manufacturers
find themselves unable to access the Honeycomb source code.

But, why is Google holding back the Honeycomb source code?
Google’s Andy Rubin is quoted as saying that Honeycomb
is currently aimed squarely at tablets and, if the source code was
released now, developers could potentially put the software on
phones and create “a really bad user experience.” He insists that
them withholding the source code does not signal a change in
Google’s open source strategy.

Android’s Apache Software License 2.0 license requires source
code to be released when the executable files are released but,
although it is common practice to release the source code and the
binaries simultaneously, the license actually does not specify a
timeframe. Google have previously taken advantage of this ambiguity
by granting major hardware manufactures early access to the Android
source code, ahead of the public release, and now they seem to be
leveraging it again, by withholding Honeycomb.

The founding director of the Software Freedom Law Centre, Eben
Moglen, sees Google’s hesitance to release the Honeycomb source
code as a big mistake: “long experience teaches people that
exposing the code to the community helps more than it hurts you,”
he says, in favour of open source. Ryan Paul takes a more stern view on Google’s
decision to keep the 3.0 source code under wraps. He takes into
account the various lockdown mechanisms used to block the
installation of third-party firmware on Android smartphones, and
concludes that “the availability of Android source code after each
release was really the last remnant of openness in Android—and now
it’s gone.” He also accuses Google of “long (exhibiting) a pattern
of behaviour in its Android dealings that reflects a disregard for
openness and the third-party development community……the fact
that they are declining to release source code now doesn’t seem
like a change in direction.”

This isn’t the first time Honeycomb has been at the centre of
some controversy. Some developers weighed the tablet-targeting
Android 3.0 against previous releases of the platform, and wondered
Google had effectively forked Android
. The notion of Google
holding back the Honeycomb source code in order to improve the
Android 3.0 experience on the smartphone, could suggest that Google
hasn’t forked Android – but it’s unlikely to win them favour in the
open source community. This news comes at a bad time for Google, as
some members of the community are also debating whether Google have
violated the GPL with Android, by using Linux header files in a
BSD-licensed library. Brown Rudnick partner Edward Naughton has
published a report (pdf) on this subject.

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