Android Is “Open Source” But Has Confidential Source Code?

Android Is “Open Source” But Has Confidential Source Code?

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.

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