In 2011, Gartner Inc expects 468 million smartphones to sell, worldwide. This is a 57.7% leap from 2010, and Android is the OS most poised to benefit from this surge in entry-level users. They are expected to hold 49% of the global smartphone market by 2012. By 2015, open OS devices are expected to compose 47% of the mobile device market. News like this is a great excuse to take another look at just what the term 'open source' means.
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The phrase "open source" roared into the world tech vernacular when Netscape released their source code in 1998. Tim O'Reilly's open source summit later that year lead to the formation of the Open Source Initiative. Originally, any software that claimed to be open source was expected to make their source code available for use or modification, free of charge. In recent years, thanks in no small part to Android, that definition has changed.
We now have two 'flavors' of open source: 'free' and 'commercial'. Google's recent decision to keep a hold of the Honeycomb source code looks like final proof that Android has slid into the latter camp. Some would argue that it no longer truly counts as open source. As a publicly traded company, Google will always focus on market viability over innovation. And that means protecting the Android 'brand'.
Google doesn't like being told their mobile platform isn't 'real' open source. Andy Rubin, Google's VP of Engineering, posted a very vocal response to people like me earlier today. From the Android developer's blog:
"Recently, there’s been a lot of misinformation in the press about Android and Google’s role in supporting the ecosystem. I’m writing in the spirit of transparency and in an attempt to set the record straight."
Rubin goes on to state that Google does not believe in "a “one size fits all” solution". He feels that Android's variety is one of its great strengths, and alleges that "quality and consistency" are "top priorities" for the development team. I hate to say this, Andy, but anyone who has used a carrier-branded Android device knows that isn't true. My Evo is bundled with a ton of crapware I can't remove. Google's recent stance against bloatware is a good start. But a start is all it is.
Halfway through Rubin's post, we find this gem:
"Our “anti-fragmentation” program has been in place since Android 1.0 and remains a priority for us...In fact, all of the founding members of the Open Handset Alliance agreed not to fragment Android when we first announced it in 2007."
Which is all well and good to say. But it doesn't change the fact that Android developers overwhelmingly feel that the OS is painfully fragmented. Rubin closes by saying that releasing Honeycomb products while the source code remains locked does not represent a change of strategy.
"As I write this the Android team is still hard at work to bring all the new Honeycomb features to phones. As soon as this work is completed, we’ll publish the code. This temporary delay does not represent a change in strategy. We remain firmly committed to providing Android as an open source platform across many device types."
Google's new CEO and new attitude both promise a return to some of the principles the Search Giant stood for in the 'good' old days. But half-honest blog posts like this don't give me any more faith that Google truly believes in 'open'.