Does Android Stretch the Definition of Open?

How Open is Android?

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 community." 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 earned.

Jessica Thornsby

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