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Pt 101429

I’m trying to follow the latest developments in the patent wars going on with Apple-Google-Microsoft-Motorola-etc. It’s a bit like watching the old Godzilla movies, giant enemies battling it out, go Mothra!

But here’s something that caught my eye via DF..

“The confidential [Android] source code improperly provided to Dr. Stevenson is highly proprietary source code that Google does not even share with its partners, such as Motorola,” Google said.

Pt 101428

One of the great things about Android is that’s is generally considered (and actually is) more open than it’s biggest rival, Apple’s iOS. Recently Google announced they’re using Arduino for their Accessory development kit. Google even says they made Android open source so “no industry player can restrict or control the innovations of any other“.

So how would it be possible to share “confidential source code” if Android is open source, and why wouldn’t Google want to share open source code with their best partners (Motorola)…?

From the Android site:

Android is an open-source software stack for mobile devices, and a corresponding open-source project led by Google. We created Android in response to our own experiences launching mobile apps. We wanted to make sure that there was no central point of failure, so that no industry player can restrict or control the innovations of any other. That’s why we created Android, and made its source code open.

A previous article in BusinessWeek talks about the “it’s open!” and then how it’s “not exactly!” history…

Playtime is over in Android Land. Over the last couple of months Google has reached out to the major carriers and device makers backing its mobile operating system with a message: There will be no more willy-nilly tweaks to the software. No more partnerships formed outside of Google’s purview. From now on, companies hoping to receive early access to Google’s most up-to-date software will need approval of their plans. And they will seek that approval from Andy Rubin, the head of Google’s Android group.

….

When Android hit the scene in 2008, Google had a tantalizing pitch: Android was “open source.” That is, Google would do the hard work of developing the code, and hardware and software makers were free to use the system at no charge. Carriers and device makers relished the idea of not paying royalties. Android became the people’s mobile software, a free zone that contrasted with the closed worlds of the iPhone (AAPL) and BlackBerry (RIMM). HTC, Motorola (MMI), and Acer could avoid spending billions developing their own operating systems and customize Android with unique services. Carriers got a raft of slick new devices to sell. Consumers enjoyed more choice. And Google’s search-advertising business could tap the vast mobile phone market.

Android’s share of the smartphone market surged from 9 percent in 2009 to an industry-leading 31 percent worldwide. “I don’t think we’ve seen anything like Android in terms of gaining share,” says Bill Gurley, general partner at the venture capital firm Benchmark Capital.

Facebook, for example, has been working to fashion its own variant of Android for smartphones. Executives at the social network are unhappy that Google gets to review Facebook’s tweaks to Android, say two people who weren’t comfortable being named talking about the business. Google has also tried to hold up the release of Verizon Android devices that make use of Microsoft’s rival Bing search engine, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

I know a lot of makers and people in the OS/OSHW communities who specifically buy Android because it’s open. I feel Google might be doing a bit of a bait and switch – flood the market with “free and open” to attract partners (check!) – get the market share (check!) and then not stick to the openness promised. I hope this isn’t what’s going on.

To be super clear – google should be celebrated for going open, I think the maker world certainly does. At this point maybe google could just map out what’s actually open source and what’s not. I’m sure 99% of it is, but it would be good for devs and partners to know what isn’t or what might not be one day.

Post in the comments with your thoughts.

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


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Comments

  1. anomdebus says:

    While I would agree that it would be better to be able to peruse the entire source code, aren’t you in danger of demanding perfect over good?
    In the mean time, others can make the choice whether early access is important enough to stick to the Google plan. If it sucks, they can partner up, replace the unshared portions and bypass Google.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @openid-20390:disqus well, if google promised and is promising “open source” which means something very specific they should stick to that (http://www.opensource.org/docs/osd)

      i think it’s clear i’m a fan of android (and generally so is everyone at MAKE) – the term open gets used/abused a bit by marketing sometimes i don’t think it’s a bad thing to ask google to be a little more clear what’s open to us and to their partners. it’s not like i’m the only one asking about this. it’s because we care and want to see it succeed.

      we can’t really complain about apple saying they’re open source since they don’t make that a central part of their marketing for their phones.

  2. TotalMonkey says:

    Open source or not, it’s still a MUCH less restrictive (power-)user-experience than it’s major competitor.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @yahoo-V32DQNET4GZYQLI6SWZUZ2KM2M:disqus 100% agree, but if google is going to say the following, they should stick to it right?

      Android is an open-source software stack for mobile devices, and a
      corresponding open-source project led by Google. We created Android in
      response to our own experiences launching mobile apps. We wanted to make
      sure that there was no central point of failure, so that no industry player can restrict or control the innovations of any other. That’s why we created Android, and made its source code open.

      ?

  3. Gregg says:

    According to one fellow interested participant, the only thing that definitely not opensource is the stuff the radio (cellphone services device) uses. He also added that the camera isn’t running on opensource. That was some years ago, about the time of the G1 so things just might have changed.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @yahoo-TYJUFVXRH2DWLTHSLBO2ENEEHQ:disqus that’s good to know, does google document this anywhere and say what’s now open source and what’s not? that would be really helpful.

  4. Anonymous says:

    It’s important to point out WHAT code is confidential, which I have not seen any article on this subject do.  The OS is open, but that doesn’t mean that all of Google’s Android code is open.  For example, they surely wouldn’t release the source code to the individual apps they release in the market.

    So, what code exactly was released?

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Jorsher:disqus yah, i have that in my post. it would be good to know what’s actually OS and what’s not. i’m sure 99% of it is OS, they just need to map that out for dev/partners/people who care about stuff like this…

    2. Google has been very clear that the Android platform (kernel, Dalvik, java libraries, and generic built-in apps such as Phone and Browser) is open-source, while apps that communicate to Google using special APIs (Gmail, Maps, Market, Voice, etc.) are proprietary. See A Note on Google Apps for Android (found in the sources for the CyanogenMod wikipedia page). If you just want to mod your own phone, you can copy your licensed copies of these apps into your newly compiled platform.

      The other area of confusion is which phone supports flashing with a custom ROM. Every phone that Google has sold supports hacking the OS. But if you are shopping for a carrier-branded phone, you must do your research to tell whether the carrier has locked it down (or whether there’s a known exploit).

      I did find the excerpt interesting, but unfortunately I can’t find the entire filing anywhere and there’s no point in commenting on the quote without context.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @google-166bdbf4351669bc37a0407d38b8cb88:disqus thank for posting this, i’ll keep looking for a copy of the filing (so far i was not able to).

      2. Anonymous says:

        Yes, completely aware of all this, although it’s nice of you to post for the others.

        This is where my question comes from.  What exactly is the code that was released?  If it’s for, for example, the Gmail app, then Google has every right to complain and it means nothing regarding the “open-ness” of Android.

        I’m thinking that Google is complaining about code from one of its apps being released, one of the same ones that CyanogenMod had to quit including in the custom roms, and the less-knowledgeable media is, perhaps inadvertently, using it to attack the OS.

        Yet, I haven’t seen one publication reveal what the code was from.

  5. Matt Mossholder says:

    Google hasn’t opened up the Honeycomb (Android 3.x) source tree yet. It is only available to partners at this time. I am assuming that Honeycomb is what Google is referencing when they mention “Confidential Source”.

    The other possibility is that they are talking about some of the closed source apps that rid on top of Android, like GMail.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think any of the Google Apps are open source. This includes Gmail, Google Search, Market, Voice Search, Talk, Voice, and a few more. That’s why aftermarket mods like cyanogen mod have you download the apps separately.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @adcurtin:disqus i think if this was source code for *apps* google and google’s lawyers would say that right?

      1. Anonymous says:

        I doubt this would be source code from their apps. I’m just saying that googles apps are (kind of) a part of Android that is closed source.

      2. Anonymous says:

        I doubt this would be source code from their apps. I’m just saying that googles apps are (kind of) a part of Android that is closed source.

  7. B.J. May says:

    The OS is open source, the applications that Google writes for it are not. Included among those applications is the Android Market, and they are within their rights to restrict access to that application at will. Most hardware manufacturers and carriers know that users want access to the Android Market, so they play by Google’s rules in order to be granted that access.

    If you don’t need the Android Market or Google’s apps, you can download the entirety of the Android OS source code right now, compile it yourself, and put it on any device within your scope of full control (with the understanding that you’re responsible for hooking in your specific hardware appropriately).

    The quote “The confidential [Android] source code improperly provided…” is especially noteworthy.  Is it really Android source code he’s talking about or some other Google-authored code? Is it code that has been open sourced? Google doesn’t open source versions of Android as they are being developed, or even immediately upon release. It usually takes a few months before a version of Android gets let loose to the open source community, after which a bazillion mods and custom ROMs start flooding in based on the new code.

    I’m not suggesting that Google has done the open-source thing perfectly, I’ve just observed that there are a LOT of lawsuits being thrown around by patent-rich megacorporations, and none of them are being initiated by Google. Google is GETTING sued by pretty much everyone, and all of Google’s partners are suing and getting sued, but Google isn’t suing anyone. Instead, they’re doing their best to defend themselves, and they’re building one of the best mobile operating systems in the world. Apple has chosen to innovate almost exclusively in the hardware realm and simply sue the pants off of anyone who dares to make a competing product. Microsoft has chosen to innovate only in software (WinPhone7 is actually quite well done) and similarly sue like crazy. I find it conspicuous that Google is the only one that is focusing primarily on making better products, rather than preventing others from making better products.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @google-60509ae7ad7251ce29bd0c5a90da10d2:disqus great comments, thank you!

      i think google should be rewarded and celebrated for going more open in the current phone world than anyone, i hope i made that clear.

      they just need to be clear about what’s going on since open is a big selling point to customers and to their partners who are using it.

    2. Anonymous says:

      I believe the only piece of Honeycomb you can get the source of right now is the kernel. The only reason you can is because google is required to by the GPL. Google stated as recently as two weeks ago that they would not release the source to any of the Apache licensed components.

      In other words anyone can use Honeycomb, as long as they go through Google. It is absurd to call that an open source project. They claim they will releases full sources again with Ice Cream Sandwich. There is sufficient reason to doubt this since they had previously claimed the sources on Honeycomb would be released.

      Android’s kernel remains open source, but as of Honeycomb, we can only assume the rest of the system is proprietary.

    3. Anonymous says:

      I believe the only piece of Honeycomb you can get the source of right now is the kernel. The only reason you can is because google is required to by the GPL. Google stated as recently as two weeks ago that they would not release the source to any of the Apache licensed components.

      In other words anyone can use Honeycomb, as long as they go through Google. It is absurd to call that an open source project. They claim they will releases full sources again with Ice Cream Sandwich. There is sufficient reason to doubt this since they had previously claimed the sources on Honeycomb would be released.

      Android’s kernel remains open source, but as of Honeycomb, we can only assume the rest of the system is proprietary.

    4. Paul says:

      You say “Google is the only one that is focusing primarily on making better products, rather than preventing others from making better products”.

      Maybe you don’t understand what is going on with these lawsuits, but Apple, Microsoft, et al don’t sue to stop you from make a better product from scratch, they are suing to prevent you ripping off their IP instead of doing your own research and development.

      As for the last part of that statement? Did you not read or just conveniently forget this quote in the article: “Google has also tried to hold up the release of Verizon Android devices that make use of Microsoft’s rival Bing search engine”?

  8. johngineer says:

    I can’t figure out what code is restricted either. Is it a “the OS kernel is OSS, but the drivers are not” sort of thing? I’m wonder if supporting all the various flavors of hardware and sundry peripherals just got to be too much for them.

  9. johngineer says:

    I can’t figure out what code is restricted either. Is it a “the OS kernel is OSS, but the drivers are not” sort of thing? I’m wonder if supporting all the various flavors of hardware and sundry peripherals just got to be too much for them.

  10. Chyeld says:

    The article in question was concerning Google playing procedural nitpicking with Microsoft, not Google restricting access to Android source code, and as others have pointed out, just because the OS is open doesn’t necessitate Google make everything that comes with their ‘package’ open. Nor does it mean that their lawyers, whom one would presume are hired for their legal expertise and not their programing ability, would know, care, or want to make a differentiation between the open OS portion of the code and the closed ‘apps’ portion.

  11. Chyeld says:

    The article in question was concerning Google playing procedural nitpicking with Microsoft, not Google restricting access to Android source code, and as others have pointed out, just because the OS is open doesn’t necessitate Google make everything that comes with their ‘package’ open. Nor does it mean that their lawyers, whom one would presume are hired for their legal expertise and not their programing ability, would know, care, or want to make a differentiation between the open OS portion of the code and the closed ‘apps’ portion.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @openid-98118:disqus the statement does not indicate if it’s source code for closed apps or for the OS.

      ““The confidential [Android] source code improperly provided to Dr.
      Stevenson is highly proprietary source code that Google does not even
      share with its partners, such as Motorola,” Google said.”

      obviously there is some confusion since i’m not the first to write about this, i think i’m being really fair. i think google can quickly address things like this and going forward make it clear what’s open source, what isn’t and if some things will just be released later.

      there’s a lot to gain but going “open” and having that as a central part of an offering, but it also means you’re open to more scrutiny about your “openness”.

      1. Patrick Wheeler says:

        You took a quote, which might be a peek on something interesting or not, and wrote an article that when I read it implies there is something interesting, perhaps secretive going on. In the end there is little evidence so the article reads sensationalistic in my opinion.

        1. Anonymous says:

          @google-24b1c064f1b7992462d2fbd5137d12e2:disqus i made sure to reference another article that talks about this too, you can read about it on business week:

          http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/11_15/b4223041200216.htm

          it’s called “Do Not Anger the Alpha Android -Google cracks down on the chaos of Android Land; some mobile partners aren’t happy”

          my post is titled: “Android Is “Open Source” But Has Confidential Source Code?

          if you type “is android open source” in google the second most search for term appears to be “is android open source or not”.

          i also say “To be super clear – google should be celebrated for going open, I think
          the maker world certainly does. At this point maybe google could just
          map out what’s actually open source and what’s not. I’m sure 99% of it
          is, but it would be good for devs and partners to know what isn’t or
          what might not be one day.”

          what specific part of what i wrote was “sensationalistic”?

          1. Patrick Wheeler says:

            This seemed a little sensationalistic:

            “I know a lot of makers and people in the OS/OSHW communities who specifically buy Androidbecause it’s open. I feel Google might be doing a bit of a bait and switch – flood the market with “free and open” to attract partners (check!) – get the market share (check!) and then not stick to the openness promised. I hope this isn’t what’s going on.”

            At least based on unspecific evidence offered here, bussinessweek and computerworld.  None of these articles give a clear description of what source code is involved but make plenty of implications.  It is clear what is open source [1]. If google decides to release a closed source version everyone is still free to use the open sources versions currently released.  The apache 2 licences is specifically designed to prevent “predatory vendor lock-in” [2] which would be necessary for a bait and switch. There is no reason for google to choose Apache 2 licences if their ultimate goal was a bait and switch.

            This is the quote from your article:

            ““The confidential [Android] source code improperly provided to Dr. Stevenson is highly proprietary source code that Google does not even share with its partners, such as Motorola,” Google said.”

            This is what I found in computer world:

            “‘The confidential source code improperly provided to Dr. Stevenson is highly proprietary source code that Google does not even share with its partners, such as Motorola,’ Google said.”

            The “[Android]” is too vague and I think potential, unfortunately and I am sure unintentionally, misleads some readers.  It is certainly not all Android source code that has ever existed.  It is specific code probably in some prerelease state which is slated to be released under Apache 2 when finished and ready for market. Which is perfectly understandable.

            [1] http://source.android.com/source/licenses.html

            [2] http://www.opensource.org/

          2. Patrick Wheeler says:

            This seemed a little sensationalistic:

            “I know a lot of makers and people in the OS/OSHW communities who specifically buy Androidbecause it’s open. I feel Google might be doing a bit of a bait and switch – flood the market with “free and open” to attract partners (check!) – get the market share (check!) and then not stick to the openness promised. I hope this isn’t what’s going on.”

            At least based on unspecific evidence offered here, bussinessweek and computerworld.  None of these articles give a clear description of what source code is involved but make plenty of implications.  It is clear what is open source [1]. If google decides to release a closed source version everyone is still free to use the open sources versions currently released.  The apache 2 licences is specifically designed to prevent “predatory vendor lock-in” [2] which would be necessary for a bait and switch. There is no reason for google to choose Apache 2 licences if their ultimate goal was a bait and switch.

            This is the quote from your article:

            ““The confidential [Android] source code improperly provided to Dr. Stevenson is highly proprietary source code that Google does not even share with its partners, such as Motorola,” Google said.”

            This is what I found in computer world:

            “‘The confidential source code improperly provided to Dr. Stevenson is highly proprietary source code that Google does not even share with its partners, such as Motorola,’ Google said.”

            The “[Android]” is too vague and I think potential, unfortunately and I am sure unintentionally, misleads some readers.  It is certainly not all Android source code that has ever existed.  It is specific code probably in some prerelease state which is slated to be released under Apache 2 when finished and ready for market. Which is perfectly understandable.

            [1] http://source.android.com/source/licenses.html

            [2] http://www.opensource.org/

        2. Anonymous says:

          @google-24b1c064f1b7992462d2fbd5137d12e2:disqus i made sure to reference another article that talks about this too, you can read about it on business week:

          http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/11_15/b4223041200216.htm

          it’s called “Do Not Anger the Alpha Android -Google cracks down on the chaos of Android Land; some mobile partners aren’t happy”

          my post is titled: “Android Is “Open Source” But Has Confidential Source Code?

          if you type “is android open source” in google the second most search for term appears to be “is android open source or not”.

          i also say “To be super clear – google should be celebrated for going open, I think
          the maker world certainly does. At this point maybe google could just
          map out what’s actually open source and what’s not. I’m sure 99% of it
          is, but it would be good for devs and partners to know what isn’t or
          what might not be one day.”

          what specific part of what i wrote was “sensationalistic”?

    2. Anonymous says:

      @openid-98118:disqus the statement does not indicate if it’s source code for closed apps or for the OS.

      ““The confidential [Android] source code improperly provided to Dr.
      Stevenson is highly proprietary source code that Google does not even
      share with its partners, such as Motorola,” Google said.”

      obviously there is some confusion since i’m not the first to write about this, i think i’m being really fair. i think google can quickly address things like this and going forward make it clear what’s open source, what isn’t and if some things will just be released later.

      there’s a lot to gain but going “open” and having that as a central part of an offering, but it also means you’re open to more scrutiny about your “openness”.

  12. Baris says:

    I certainly hope that code is open for personal and non-profit uses (like cyanogenmod) but code is confidential when an other company like microsoft or apple is trying to use it. My idea explains google’s actions and I don’t know a lot about creative commons but as I know you can share or change it but you can’t say it is yours and you can’t sell it. May be because I like google but I believe that make sense.

  13. Lately analysts have been trying to turn this into a black-and-white issue where source code must be either 100% open or 100% closed. Google has obviously chosen to leave certain parts of Android code unpublished. Even if Android is only 90% open, it is 90% more than any of its competitors.

  14. Lately analysts have been trying to turn this into a black-and-white issue where source code must be either 100% open or 100% closed. Google has obviously chosen to leave certain parts of Android code unpublished. Even if Android is only 90% open, it is 90% more than any of its competitors.

  15. VRAndy says:

    Without commenting on the Android project specifically, I’d like to point out that you could *easily* have a completely open source product and still have “confidential source code”.

    How? 

    By keeping your upcoming features a secret until they are released or until they can be announced with maximum impact.  That’s a standard business tactic that works for both open source and closed source software.

    If Google has invented a new feature for Android, they may want to time the release of that feature so that they can enjoy the maximum amount of exclusivity before Apple implements a competing feature. There is nothing wrong with that, and the resulting product would still be “open source” when it’s released.

  16. Jon Marler says:

    I don’t think Android qualifies as Open Source, but more as “available source” instead.  For everyone who loves to tout Android as being “open” let me ask you one question … How many non-Google contributors are there?  Zero.  It is not possible to contribute to Android.  Google controls what goes in, and what does not go in.  When Rackspace launched OpenStack they did it right.  Anyone can contribute to OpenStack and instantly compete with Rackspace.  Google would NEVER be that open.  You have all been fooled by the pied piper playing a false “open source” tune.  Imagine if Arduino refused to release the source code for the firmware? 
    Imagine if when they did release the source code, you couldn’t join the
    project and contribute.  Would you call that open?

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