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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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