Nov 06 AT 7:06 PM Taylor Wimberly 27 Comments

Google changes direction with Android Open Source Project

Everyone knows that Android is open source, right? Well that depends on who you talk with and their exact definition of open source. Some might claim Android is fully open and others might refer to it as fauxpen source.

Google originally created the AOSP (Android Open Source Project) so that the community had full visibility into platform evolution and decision-making. This allowed anyone who was interested in exploring and contributing to Android to use the Android Open Source Project resources.

A lot has changed between the release of Android 1.0 to 2.0. This is evident in recent changes that were made to the project roles page. In order to see the changes that were made, we must compare a cached page with the current page.

Do a Google search for the project roles page and click "cached".

Do a Google search for the project roles page and click "cached".

The following sections were removed.

The Android Open Source Project has been structured to ensure that:

  • The community has full visibility into platform evolution and decision-making.
  • Contributions are recognized and rewarded.
  • Android achieves commercial relevance.

The Core Technical Team is responsible for the following:

  • Prepare roadmaps for Android open source releases.
  • Approve the set up of new projects and select Project Leads as needed.
  • Be the public face for the Android Open Source Project.

Google also removed a section near the bottom that listed the requirements of becoming a member for the Core Technical Team.

What does this mean?

I don’t claim to be an expert on open source development, but I will do my best to explain the situation based on the information I have gathered. (If someone wants to step in correct me, I welcome your input.)

From what I can tell, Android is not a community project in the sense that most other open source projects operate. Android (as I see it) is totally controlled and managed by Google.

Instead of everyday members of the “community” driving the platform, you have certain members of the OHA (Open Handset Alliance) like HTC and Motorola who make significant contributions. We know this based on recent statements from Motorola executives that told us their engineers were working closely with Google on Android 2.0.

Is it necessarily a bad thing that Google is the primary driver of Android? Not at all. Without Google, Android would be nowhere close to what it is today.

I’m still confused. What are you saying?

Parts of Android are open and others are not. A few pieces like the kernel are licensed under the GPL and made available when product ships. For example, Google just released the kernel for Droid (android-omap-2.6.29-eclair). Other parts of the Android framework are under the Apache License and can remain closed as long as Google likes.

This is the reason why the popular CyanogenMod has not been updated to Android 2.0. Google has yet to release the full source code for Eclair and there is no time frame for doing so.

Ok you totally lost me.

Android is developed behind closed doors, but anyone can still make contributions. The Verizon Droid was actually the first phone to receive a significant number of open source contributions from the community. However, Google has not released the full source code so it is hard to tell what those contributions were.

Google and select members of the OHA decide the roadmap for Android, but it will no longer be made public. The reason for this is because of commercial deadlines. Google does not want to publish a roadmap of features and then be criticized for failing to deliver when they have a product deadline to meet.

In order for Android to be a commercially viable product (and show up on all those new phones you love), parts of it must remain closed and be controlled by Google. That is just the way it is.

So when will Eclair source code be released?

I have no clue when Android 2.0 source will be released. Your guess is as good as mine. The following quote comes from our favorite Android engineer Jean-Baptiste Queru over on the official Google Groups page.

There are a number of things that need to happen before any
Open-Source release can happen, and those haven’t all happened for
Eclair yet. For all I know all of those things will eventually happen.

The overall process for any such release routinely takes a few weeks,
depending of course on the size of the release, and Eclair is a big
release.

I’m afraid that’s about all I’m allowed to say at the moment. As a
technical person, I can’t make actual commitments or discuss specific
dates.

Until that happens, most of us will be stuck with Android 1.6 (Donut). He mentions it could be a few weeks, but I’m thinking it might be a few months. I would love to be wrong.

For more discussion on the release of Android 2.0 see this article which contains a bunch of quotes from carriers and handset makers. I kind of get the feeling we won’t know anything solid for awhile. If you want an Android 2.0 phone this holiday season, it looks like Droid is your only choice.

[Thank you disconn3ct for some tips used in this article]

Taylor is the founder of Android and Me. He resides in Dallas and carries the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One as his daily devices. Ask him a question on Twitter or Google+ and he is likely to respond. | Ethics statement

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