Google won’t be releasing the source code for Android 3.0 Honeycomb any time soon. (For a great overview of why that is and what it means, see Jerry Hildenbrand’s excellent article over at our sibling site, Android Central.) What makes this interesting for TiPb is that, for a while now Google has used the term “open” as a hammer to differentiate themselves from Apple, iOS, and the iPhone. From Eric Schmidt’s “completely open” quips to Vic Gundotra I/O smack-talk toAndy Rubin’s now-ironic tweet, it’s been clear from the start that “open” wasn’t a development philosophy for Google but a marketing term. It was a brilliant if utterly disingenuous move that rallied many hardcore free and open-source software advocates to their cause (and platform) and got a bevy of tech writers to skewer Apple for being equally and oppositely “closed”.
That it was marketing rather than philosophy was fairly clear from the start — “open” is such a nebulous term to begin with. Android was never Stallman-class open, GPL licensed and patent unencumbered. It was never even Mozilla-class open, where the source was freely available even during development phases. It was Google-class open, which meant it was only released when it benefitted Google, and only really meant for manufacturers and carriers. We’ve spoken about it plenty of times here at TiPb, and so has our sibling site, Android Central. (Phil Nickinson and I even did a special podcast on it back in October.) It’s kind of like that popsicle you get at the corner store — it’s not chocolate, it’s chocolaty. Android was never open. It was openy.
That’s fine. It’s even good. It let Google make the arrangements they needed to make with manufacturers and carriers to get Android accepted and deployed at the scale it enjoys today. An Android that didn’t let manufacturers lock down bootloaders and carriers lock out sideloaders, that didn’t allow for bloatware and feature removal, wouldn’t be the number one fastest growing phone OS on the planet. And a Google that open sourced their search algorithms, AdWords and AdSense code, and internal infrastructure programming would likely have been bought by Oracle instead of being sued by them (yes, that’s a Sun reference.)
Apple’s the same way. They protect their revenue streams — their interfaces and designs, products and presentations, and they open source WebKit and OpenCL and a large number of other ancillary projects.
Both are for-profit companies after all, tightly controlling the areas they dominate with proprietary code and fragmenting those they don’t with free software. Google just chose to deliberately mis-use the term “open” as a corporate strategy.
And it’s come back to bite them in the @$$ this week because of Honeycomb.
Android is a fantastic OS that is getting better and better with each iteration. It’s power is ridiculous and hopefully Matias Duarte will give it an interface to match (seriously Google, get those 40 shades of blue out of his way and let the man do what he wants.) It’s just not now nor has it ever been open — it has been and remains “openy”.
Now that Schmidt can’t get away with “completely open”, Gundotra needs to fear for a future of his own creation, and Rubin’s make command will error out with file not found, maybe we’ll get less rhetoric from Google and Apple both. Ultimately I don’t care who’s more open or more integrated — I just care who makes me the better phone and tablet.