Print 40 comment(s) - last by Tony Swash.. on Mar 27 at 12:08 PM

Google is nixing Honeycomb on smart phones by refusing to release the source.

The decision to close the source will likely be undone when the smart phone and tablet branches are merged with Android 3.5 "Ice Cream Sandwich".  (Source: Laa Loosh)
Company says the OS isn't ready for modification

Google's Android operating system has been tremendously successful.  It's become the top selling phone platform in the world and its app store is stocked with close to 200,000 apps.  But for all that success, a perpetual criticism is a perception that Android's environment is too heterogeneous across various handsets -- part of this is due to carriers/hardware partners failing to roll out the latest versions, but part of it is due to customizations such as Motorola's Motoblur and HTC's Sense UI.

I. Bye Bye Open Source -- For Now

Perhaps that's part of why Google has decided why not to release the source code for Android 3.0 "Honeycomb", yet.

The company states that the code isn't ready yet for external modification, despite the fact that products are being sold with it installed, today.

Aside from preventing unwanted third-party user interfaces, the chief goal of the delay is ostensibly from preventing Honeycomb (Android 3.0) from being put on smartphones.  Google is pressuring smartphone makers to instead use Android 2.3 "Gingerbread".  Google is also less-than-enthusiastic about Honeycomb entering other devices, like set-top boxes and automobiles, without further modification.

Andy Rubin, vice-president for engineering at Google and head of its Android group essentially admits that the move is being made to prevent the platform from heading, in its current state, to places Google didn't intend.  In a BusinessWeek interview, he states, "To make our schedule to ship the tablet, we made some design tradeoffs. We didn't want to think about what it would take for the same software to run on phones. It would have required a lot of additional resources and extended our schedule beyond what we thought was reasonable. So we took a shortcut."

He adds, "Android is an open-source project. We have not changed our strategy."

Then he makes an even more surprising statement -- he says that if his company released Android's source, it couldn't prevent phone makers from putting it in a phone form-factor "and creating a really bad user experience. We have no idea if it will even work on phones."

That statement is intriguing because it sounds a lot like arguments against open source operating systems that one of Android's top competitors, Apple, made in recent years.  And while the delay doesn't mean Google has closed its project off from the public, it does indicate that the company is increasingly seeing eye to eye with Apple on this issue.

Dave Rosenberg, a longtime executive in the open-source software world, complains about the decision, but admits, "Everyone expects this level of complete trust from a company that's worth $185 billion. To me, that is ridiculous. You have to be realistic and see that Google will do what is in [its] best interests at all times.

II. What Will the Impact of Google's Newfound Selectiveness Be?

Ultimately this issue will supposedly be washed away with Android 3.5 "Ice Cream Sandwich", which will unify the smartphone (Gingerbread) and tablet (Honeycomb) trees into a single operating system.

In the meantime, it's possible Google could make stop-gap modifications to improve the Honeycomb experience on smart phones, and release a minor update.  Mr. Rubin states, "The team is hard at work looking at what it takes to get this running on other devices."

It's hard to say how the move will affect sales.  

Sales of the Samsung Galaxy Tab were quite good, despite the interface (Android 2.2 Froyo)feeling clunky on a tablet.  By contrast the Motorola Xoom offers a vastly superior UI in Honeycomb, yet has struggled in sales.

Part of this may be due to price -- the Tab debuted at $399 USD on at least one network, while the Xoom debuted at $799 USD.  

The true test of whether the decision to close off the platform should be soon at hand, though.  The Xoom has dropped in price, with a Wi-Fi version launch on Sunday at $599 USD.  And Samsung will soon air a second generation Galaxy Tab 8.9-inch tablet for $469 USD and a a 10.1-inch variant for $499 USD, rumored to launch on June 8.  Dell also looks to soon air updated versions of its "Streak" Android tablets, at competitive prices.

Despite that the decision to temporarily close the source may benefit Google and its customers experience, not everyone is happy with it.

Eben Moglen, a professor of Law at Columbia Law School and the founding director of the Software Freedom Law Center, argues that Google is repeating the mistakes of industry giants like Apple.  He states, "[Closing your source is] usually a mistake. Long experience teaches people that exposing the code to the community helps more than it hurts you."

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RE: Not an issue
By Flunk on 3/25/2011 10:28:09 AM , Rating: 5
But it's not their code. Android contains software licensed under the GNU GPL which means that they MUST ship the source with the compiled product or be in violation of the license.

They're in violation of the license now and can be sued by any number of open-source developers, the developers of the Linux kernel for example.

RE: Not an issue
By CZroe on 3/25/2011 10:30:29 AM , Rating: 2
Beat me... barely. ;)

RE: Not an issue
By SkullOne on 3/25/2011 11:31:55 AM , Rating: 3
Couldn't say that any better myself.

While I understand why Google is doing what they are doing I don't agree with it. They should be releasing the source code regardless. Just stick a disclaimer on it though that it is for tablets only.

If a team of developers like CyanogenMod wants to port it to a phone let them. It's their time and their hardware. If they get it working more power to them. If it bricks their phones well they learned their lesson.

RE: Not an issue
By StealthX32 on 3/25/2011 6:13:56 PM , Rating: 2
Google doesn't really care what Cyanogenmod and 3rd party developers so, they represent a tiny fraction of the Android market. I bet this is largely because Samsung put Froyo on the Galaxy Tab, despite all the dissent that Google sent their way.

Buyers of the Galaxy Tab are now wondering why they got a watered down Android experience, and in the end, Android (Google) pays.

RE: Not an issue
By kleinma on 3/25/2011 11:40:46 AM , Rating: 3
Yeah, it's not their code.. its the dozen plus companies suing over the use of their IP in the android codebase without license ;)

RE: Not an issue
By bug77 on 3/25/2011 12:07:38 PM , Rating: 2
Afaik, only the kernel is GPL. The rest is under Apache license, which does not mean they have to release all modifications. I may be wrong, I'm not a license expert.

RE: Not an issue
By Flunk on 3/25/11, Rating: 0
RE: Not an issue
By bug77 on 3/25/2011 12:49:20 PM , Rating: 2
I dare say not everything in a Linux distro is GPL.

RE: Not an issue
By InfinityzeN on 3/25/2011 1:41:26 PM , Rating: 2
Actually no, that is not how it works. You being a programmer means that you really don't, since we are talking a legal issue here.

Only the kernal is GPL in Android. Everything else is not a derived work. On most Linux distros, only about half the code is actually under GPL.

I rather hate the GNU and will stick with BSD.

RE: Not an issue
By avxo on 3/25/2011 3:26:22 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, yes it does. As a programmer I'm very aware of how this works, any derived product of any GPL project must be GPL. If the kernel used is GPL then the entire OS must be GPL.


Your statement is almost certainly not true. Legally, it's (at best) unclear if using a GPL kernel for an O/S means that the O/S qualifies as a derivative work for copyright purposes if all the interaction between the O/S and the kernel is done over well-defined public interfaces.

To see how ridiculous your statement is consider the following: I independently develop a kernel that exposes the kernel API set of the Windows NT kernel as present in, say Windows 2000 and license it under the GPL. I replace the windows kernel with my own, and boot up the system. Windows 2000 isn't magically a derivative work of my kernel, nor does it somehow fall under the control of the GPL.

You, as a programmer, may think you are very aware of how this works, but clearly you aren't. Perhaps you should take a course on copyright law instead of memorizing rms and thinking that's sound legal advice.

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