back to article Googlola's closed source Android temptation

Google has long played Android a bit closer to the vest than some would like. Over the years it has taken a beating from open-source advocates and others, most recently resulting in a study declaring it to be the most closed of any open-source mobile platform, a claim that Google's Chris DiBona calls nonsense, indicating that …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Although I agree they do play the open source label a bit fast and loose, I think the "the most closed of any open-source mobile platform" statement a little bit carefully phrased... The only other open-source mobile platform I can think of is Intel/Nokia's maemo/meego which has been famously hung out to dry!

    Yes, I'm sure there are others, and I'll get flamed by someone who's installed Debian onto a 3610 or something, but can we please keep this sensible and discount operating systems with less than 100 installs!

    1. ThomH Silver badge

      I hate to say it...

      ... but per the linked article, they defined 'platform' quite widely and seem to have opened the net to software strongly related to mobile platforms, hence compared Android to Eclipse, the Linux kernel, MeeGo, Firefox, Qt, Symbian (when it was open), and WebKit.

      Why do I hate to say it? Because that imports a Google v Apple angle. Maybe if we keep that bit quiet we can still have a sensible discussion?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I hate to say it...

        So they've compared the openness of an entire mobile device OS with a text editor, an OS kernel, an abandoned mobile device OS, a web browser, a couple of abandoned Nokia bits and the nuts and bolts behind a webbrowser?

        Well I guess we should be thankful for them actually including MeeGo and Symbian, which were actually mobile operating systems, although hardly a great example of how it should be done, especially the "it's open", "sorry, changed our minds" Symbian!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      open source vs open

      Their use of the open source label seems fine. But they should hold back a little on the open label.

      Milinkovich got it right when he said "open source is not the same thing as open" and Google seems to focus on open source not on open. And that's still waaaaaaay better than iOS and WP7.

      Also it's kinda annoying to see this expectation that open source MUST mean open governance and open development. It's so black and white. Android could never keep up it's current speed of development if open governance and open development would be employed.

  2. M Gale

    Google already have a rule...

    ...that states that if your build isn't certified, it can't be called "Android". Maybe to reduce fragmentation they should just try enforcing that rule a little more? "Android" or "Android Certified" versus "Based on Android" could end up being the difference between buying "Apple Juice" and "Apple Flavour Juice". Simple enough for Joe Sixpack to understand, nobody needs to go all Cupertinian, and you can still buy el cheapo Chinese web-slabs that don't feature the little green robot on their packaging.

    Or to quote Google themselves:

    "Is compatibility mandatory?

    No. The Android Compatibility Program is optional. Since the Android source code is open, anyone can use it to build any kind of device. However, if a manufacturer wishes to use the Android name with their product, or wants access to Android Market, they must first demonstrate that the device is compatible."


    Problem potentially solved?

  3. Paul Shirley

    there is another option

    It's depressing that no-one even considers the possibility of Google simply imposing more openness on Motorola than Motorola historically demonstrated.

    Things like banning the ultra-locked bootloaders Motorola have become infamous for or maybe even forcing them to offer crapware free versions. Google can force a hell of a lot of change on the overall Android market without favouring Motorola, just by forcing them to be better than the competition.

    It's a sad commentary on the behaviour of the existing giants that so many can only see abuse of power as an option here.

    It's not as if the 'special relationship' Google and Motorola had developing Android 3 has caused any comment about abuse, even amongst the G hating regulars on the Reg!

    Abuse is not inevitable unless you have Bulmer or Ellison on your board ;)

  4. DrXym Silver badge

    Ice Cream Sandwich

    Android 4.x which supposedly merges 3.x and 2.x will be the defining moment. If Google make excuses why the source is still not opened then its effectively game over on the open source claim.

    I think the real reason 3.x was not because the phone voice stack has become a bit bitrotten (though it may well have). It's not because the code might have taken messy shortcuts through the code to make Android 3.0 (it may have done that too, e.g. only bothering to make screens look right at particular resolutions). I think the real reason is they don't want to give an advantage to Amazon who are building a tablet outside their ecosystem, and they also want to have more control over licensees of Android 3.0 tablets.

    Not unreasonable things to wish but at some point the excuses have to stop. So when 4.x rolls around, so too must the source code.

    1. Giles Jones Gold badge


      I'm sure the openness and free nature of Android is just a ploy to get it going, get everyone hooked before closing the source and starting to charge money for it.

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        We'll wait and see

        As I said, I'll reserve judgement. It is semi plausible that the codebase was a bitrotten and abused because of the stuff Android 3.0 does and doesn't do. The new desktop needs backporting, the phone stack needs to be fixed up, changes to apps need to work at various sizes. But the excuse only lasts until Ice Cream Sandwich. That's the great merge and single codebase once more. One would hope and assume that the code is good for public consumption once more. But we'll see.

  5. NoneSuch Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Take a dozen of your best Google programmers...

    Isolate them in a wing of the Chocolate Factory for 18 months, keep them away from any other source code and have them write an original OS for mobile phones and tablets.

    Now that they have the talent of a few hundred Motorola Mobility Engineers to draw on it should be easy peasey.

    No Java copyright issues, no Open Source license issues and they can either license it to developers (on their terms) or give the compiled version away for free for anyone to download. Having it be Open Source would be nice too, but not completely necessary.

    Google has the money to do 100 OS's if needed. Why they didn't do this long before now is a huge mystery to me...

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Where to start?

      Operating systems are not created in a vacuum by "good programmers". Even so, in the US, that does not necessarily mean you will be free from copyright and patent issues. And then, when you do have an OS, you have to convince developers to work on it and provide them with all the tools.

      That's why IOS is not a clean room development but based on Mac OS which is based on NextStep which is based on Unix which is based on... Probably simpler to buy QT from Nokia, or WebOS from HP.

      If Google is going to turn into a large-scale manufacturer then it needs supply chain managers just as much as engineers.

    2. Geoff Campbell
      Black Helicopters


      I wouldn't be at all surprised to find this is under way already. Makes obvious business sense for Google, to my mind.


  6. David Simpson 1

    More research please.....

    "which is much more of an advertising company than a software or hardware company"

    And yet internet search/advertising is built on software that runs on hardware. Google build their own servers and even use their own file system which gives them the best search system on the market. Claiming they don't software or hardware is pure bull.

    "most recently resulting in a study declaring it to be the most closed of any open-source mobile platform"

    The study looked harshly on Google because they don't use distributed home users to write code, which is a separate issue completely from how open the released code is.

    1. stuff and nonesense

      Stairway to Heaven.. well it's a title

      ""which is much more of an advertising company than a software or hardware company"

      And yet internet search/advertising is built on software that runs on hardware. Google build their own servers and even use their own file system which gives them the best search system on the market. Claiming they don't software or hardware is pure bull."

      Google makes money from advertising. It is an advertising company.

      That it uses home brew technology as tools does not make it a hardware company.

      The software Google distributes is a tool to get information to better target advertisements.

    2. Dave 142


      Estate agents use hardware and software too, does that make them a software or hardware company?

      My vet uses them too, does that make my vet a software or hardware company?

  7. Anonymous Coward


    There is much of it in this article.

    The development is closed rather than by community.

    However, apart from the last release the code of the OS is entirely open source.

    There is no reason to assume that it won't be open in the future. Google have already said that the last version is an "intermediate" version that they don't want a ton of people coding for. Ice Cream Sandwich is supposed to be the next big outing and I'm looking forward to it.

    Google have no real interest in a closed infrastructure for Android. They sell ads, that's how they make their money. They're not really competing against Apple per se. That;s a distraction.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Never entirely open source

      To my knowledge the Android project was never entirely open source, there's always been a lot of closed code inside infamous proprietary opaque binary blobs.The latest release just closed it all (except GPL code in the tree)

      It's also incorrect to say that Google was no real interest in closed infrastructure. One big closed part of Android is precisely Google's closed source apps (Market, Talk, Maps, Gmail, etc). Not only there's no source, manufacturers even need Google's approval to install those, and the rules of how approval works are not very clear.

      If Google only really cared about serving ads and not closing the infrastructure then surely be happy for anyone to include those apps.

    2. SuccessCase

      Re: Confusion

      Google are number two in a massively exploding tablet market. The number one, Apple are making billions upon billions from it. Google are making as near as damnit nothing. Yes in the annual report Google claim diversified revenues by business unit, but read the whole thing and you will find - they state quite clearly, but tucked away in small print, 96 - 97 percent of revenue comes from ad sales and ad management. Which means the revenues currently attributed to Android are in the main ad sale and ad management revenues occurring via Android devices (on the same logic, they could report revenues for their "iPhone" division).

      The street is asking how this lack of real diversified revenue can still be the case after years of new product development and a global staff of c 90,000. Google are under pressure to create true diversified revenues. Their core search business, unlike an OS is open to competition (and MS Bing is competing and gaining a small but growing share). There is only one thing preventing Google realizing the diversification of revenue the market seeks, and that involves losing face and going back on their word. Making Android closed source and charging licensing fees for it. I've been saying it for over a year (and getting down voted simply for pointing out the economic reality as though doing so means I somehow condone that Google should go back on their word).

      The simple fact is the opportunity cost of keeping Android open source is looking like it is running to billions. Of course it can be argued Android wouldn't be where it is with the buy in it has if it wasn't open source. It can also be argued keeping it Open source and free (but charging license fees for key features like the Marketplace and Maps) will ensure ongoing accelerated adoption and so is a great long term strategy. But neither argument changes the fact the opportunity cost of keeping Android open and free is to forsake immediate real and substantial diversified revenues in the here and now (e.g. not the faux diversified revenues Google currently report). It is increasingly difficult for Google to avoid the bare truth maintaining their Android strategy is forsaking here and now revenues. The commenter I'm replying too doesn't seem to appreciate understanding of the pressure the market and market analysts excerpt on a company. I'm afraid the most likely truth is, the days of Android being Open are over. The question is how long Google try to maintain the pretense and what tortuous permutations of licensing model they impose that allow them to tenuously maintain the argument it remains Open Source.

      Page and Brinn face one huge moral dilemma. My betting is, rather than come right out with a change of policy they will continue to try to fudge it. But increasingly the user / developer community are realizing the true motive for their keeping Honeycomb source under wraps. Now even Open Source advocate Matt Assay has cottoned on, surely there can be few left who don't understand it. When the news first broke, Android advocates were rather naively swallowing the line "it's because we are concerned the code should be high quality before exposing it to the world", but I notice now the news has had time to settle in, few are arguing that on Google's behalf now.

  8. Matthew 25
    Thumb Up

    Interesting article

    Just a thought. If Android became so tightly integrated with Motorola that it became effectively a closed platform, do you think that the HTCs and Samsungs etc would create more WP7 (WP8?) devices? Considering that WebOS has just been er... suspended and Android has question marks about the Google takeover of Moto and the possibility of being terminated by Oracle, Microsoft could end up as the real winner in this as the only viable alternative to iOS.

    Another alternative could do quite well.

  9. Michael Habel Silver badge

    So what about....

    MeeGo, or are Nokia under some NDA from Balmer to "forget about it"?

    Seems to me that with MeeGo you have everything One could want from Android (e.g. Linux and FOSS), with out all that messy IP issues.

    Personally I hope that the EU Courts tell Apple to get stuffed,

    I know it's not likely to happen though.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Nokia are under the blood sucker Elop, remote-controlled from Redmond

      And be assured that one big part of the MS-Nokia deal is the intentional killing of Maemo/Meego, Symbain *and* Qt to satisfy the blood lust of Ballmer. And by the way WTF happened to the evil Gates icon, El Reg is a shadow of its former self...

  10. multipharious


    Apple hardware. Ubuntu OS. Not for me, but it does make me smile in a big way. It is cool to meet him in a café and he is multihop ssh'd in natively to some running process to observe.

    I use a lot of devices, but after the refusal of Google to feed back into the system (read fork,) and their little problems in their ecosystem and Amazon's surrounding Android's battery has run dry. Meanwhile my two other phones? I keep them charged.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    business priorities

    "Don't be evil" is IMO long behind us.

    Another thing many people seem to be very willing to ignore is that there's also something as acting in the spirit of a license. Especially if said license isn't a rough business license which people pay hard bucks for but something as an open source license.

    Sure; going by the letter of the license Google does nothing wrong. But this is never what was intended, and I don't like it one bit.

    So I wouldn't be too surprised if Google did close its stuff entirely. Possibly even blaming it on "whiners" like myself.

  12. kurkosdr

    Google was forced to buy Motorola...

    The whole press was saying how Motorola would soon be the only Android vendor that doesn't have to pay royalties to MS, because of their immense patent portfolio that makes any other company fear them. And then Mototola comes and says they will charge a royalty (on top of the Microsoft royalty) for every Android phone sold by other Android vendors (htc, lg, samsung etc).

    So its not that Google really has a choice. And the high break up fee shows that.

    Anyway, I dont think Google will be seriously getting into the hardware biz. They will produce the usual "Nexus" reference handsets, but that's it. Because Google knows that other handset makers can make phones that have more bling and are more good looking. Why all Nexus phones are ugly? Is it because they are trying to make them not look like the iPhone? Anyway, Google is not dumb enough to get close to Motorola and annoy the partners that make Android look beautiful (because stock Android sure isn't, just look at the Nexus S)

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Pointless FUD

    There are so many speculative and unsubstantiated assumptions in this article; all it can possibly serve to do is add fuel to the 'Open Source in Crisis!1!!11' fire. Why on earth is an 'emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative' spreading this FUD nonsense?

  14. Anakin

    The FUD machine is running

    Full steam ahead

  15. sueme2

    do be do be do

    Motorola mobile have a java card from way back. They also have patents. They also have STB plans. Android is an ecosystem, and that is its strength. How much longer could that ecosystem live without this added defense? In one move they have probably fixed good old Larry. Evil? I read that line as "dont be evil when you are doing evil" Nobdy ever said "don't do evil", they said "don't be evil."

    1. Turtle


      Well, the thing is, that the Oracle suit against Google is not a patent suit. It is a copyright infringement suit. Even if we disregard the fact that MMI's patent portfolio has not prevented them (MMI) from getting sued by Microsoft and Apple, I do not see how any MMI patent can possibly help in a copyright-infringement suit. Care to explain?

  16. Anonymous Coward

    Noone knows .

    Speculation at this point is just that , speculation.

    We will have to wait and see what the direction will be, but do remember one important point :

    Motorola is not only simple telephone sets , they are radio , cable , seen almost everywhere there's professional RF communications .There may be way more to this story than meets the eye at the moment.Let's pop some corn , sit back ,watch and enjoy the show.

  17. TonyHoyle

    I did wonder about that

    The big problem for google isn't apple.. they've shown no interest of leaving their walled garden and licensing phones (the samsung thing didn't really hurt them, although having a few patents to wave in apples direction can't hurt). Apple devices use google maps, google search, etc. anyway.

    It's Oracle. Android is somewhat dependent on having a compatible API set with java. I'm not sure you can really patent function names in the way Oracle are claiming (otherwise embarcadero could sue MS for duplicating half of the delphi API in .net), but if they manage it it could cause big problems. Having some patents to wave back at oracle opens the possibility of cross licensing deals.

    From the phone point of view it seems simple to me - android vendors get royalty free rights to use the motorola patents, nobody else does. The cost of using other OSs suddenly increases by the cost of the patent licenses required to actually build the phone - google wins (until MS buy Nokia and pull the same trick, which evens things out again).

    1. henchan

      Double down Oracle On Android

      Agree that Oracle is a large problem for Android. It could also be part of a solution.

      Assume that Oracle gets into a winning legal position. Would it go just for maximum cash or for a more strategic play? Follow Oracle's trajectory with Java back to the '90s and it is clear that they always loved that platform. Android is the best potential growth franchise for Oracle-owned Java. If they'd cash in on a positive verdict without reinvesting the award, investors could more clearly see the long term expected value for the Java component of their $8B Sun investment. But If they'd double down on marketing partnerships, development cost sharing, product integration and reasonable licensing the Android platform could be sold as a growth story for Oracle just as Google. has so far got away with. Google apparently has few friends and can ill afford to buy any more. Their enemies are common. Better to shake hands now, Larry to Larry, on a mutually beneficial arrangement and to temper their courtroom arguments accordingly.

  18. WilsonB

    The answer is obvious.........

    Meego Rocks!

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