Debate

Is Android Completely Open Source?

Jessica Thornsby

Is the Android platform as open as Google want us to believe?

Is Android evil? According to Andreas Constantinou it is.

The mobile strategist has posted a blog accusing Google’s mobile platform of exploiting
open source for its own commercial agenda. Most of the Android
source code may be released under the Apache 2 license, but if it’s
an open platform for the software developer ecosystem, then it
isn’t for the handset Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM.)

Constantinou has investigated how Google keeps a tight reign on
its pre-load technology, and has come to the conclusion that
control is maintained through a system of eight control points. One
of these control points, is the source code, which he labels as “by
no means sufficient to build a handset.” He claims that a
combination of missing code – such as radio integration,
international language packs and operator packs – and closed source
apps like Market, Gmail and Gtalk, give Google a tight control over
the make-up of Android phones. Also listed as hindering the
openness of the Android platform, is the roadmap.
The ‘latest’ public version is for the first quarter of 2009.
Google also have copyright over the Android brand, effectively
giving them the final say on whether a handset can be promoted as
Android, or not.

Andreas Constantinou has also been doing some research into
Google’s compatibility test suite (CTS) which is a set of
requirements a handset must pass in order to achieve the Android
label. The blog claims to have discovered that CTS doesn’t just
cover API compliance, but also performance testing, hardware
features, device design, UI specifications and bundled
services.

The crux of Constantinou’s argument, is that Android have
positioned themselves to get the best out of both worlds:
capitalising on the resources and approval of the open source
community, whilst retaining a tight hold over the Android platform,
especially in terms of what can be advertised as an Android
handset.

However, he acknowledges that, regardless of Android’s marketing
tactics, it has still provided the sphere of mobile innovation with
a boost. “The point of the article is not to vilify Google or
concoct visions of Darth Vader; but to balance the level of
openness hysteria with a reality check on the commercial dynamics
of mobile open source,” he concludes. Android may not be as open
source as some people would like to believe, but by being more open
than some other mobile platforms, it is a step in the right
direction.

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