Does Android Stretch the Definition of Open?

How Open is Android?

Jessica Thornsby

Steve Jobs’ anti-Google earnings call rant, prompts Joe Hewitt to speculate just how open Android really is…….

Steve Jobs’ five minute long rant against Google and Android during an
earnings call, has predictably sparked a debate as to what exactly
it means to be “open.” In Jobs’ experience, when most people think
of “open” they think of Windows, and although few members of the
open source community would agree with him, it’s clear that pinning
down the concept of “open” is no easy feat.

Joe Hewitt discovered this, when he began publishing tweets
criticising Google’s definition of “open” when it comes to the
Android platform. He began by questioning “how does Android get away with
the “open” claim when the source isn’t public until major releases,
and no one outside Google can check in?” Android’s release cycle
prevents the community from getting their hands on the source code
until the Android team have finished developing the version
internally. Many other “open” projects allow developers to see the
code as it is being written in a public source tree, and sometimes
they have the option of contributing code of their own. Hewitt
cited Firefox and Linux as examples of a ‘truly’ open project and
clarified that “open source means sharing control with the
He also went on to state that it was the lack of visibility into the platform’s day-to-day
progress, rather than the lack of write access, that bothered him
about Android.

After a flurry of retweets and replies, Hewitt decided he needed
more than 140 characters to explain himself properly, and has since
posted a blog on the openness of Android. Firstly, he praises
how configurable Android is, before moving onto the bad stuff,
namely “compromising Android in an effort to please the carriers.”
He acknowledges that in the competitive world of mobile operating
systems, compromises must be made, but still stands by his original
tweets: “it kills me to hear the term “open” watered down so much.
It bothers me that so many people’s first exposure to the idea of
open source is an occasional code drop, and not a vibrant community
of collaborators.”

It isn’t all bad news for Google, though: one Google project
does meet Hewitt’s criteria for being classed as “open,” and that’s
Chrome OS. Interested parties can track Chrome’s daily progress in
their source repository, install their own build on their PC, and
potentially commit to the project once commit privileges are

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