There’s been a lot of talk recently about whether Android is truly open or not. SVP of Mobile at Google — Andy Rubin — decided to set the record straight about Android’s openness. In the Q/A session at Google I/O this morning, he explained why Android is an open source project, but not developed in the open like other open source products.
When asked about this issue by Lance Ulanoff of PC Magazine, Andy responded:
Open source is different than a community-driven project. Android is light on the community-driven side and heavy on the open source. Everything we do ends up in the open source repository.
We're building a platform, not an app. Developers evolve APIs and deprecate APIs, they are always adding new functionality. When we add new APIs, typically in my opinion community processes don't work. It's really hard to tell when you're done, it's really hard to tell what's a release and what's a beta.
Developers have to have an expectation that all the APIs are done and complete at certain date.
If it was a community process, an OEM could start building devices, then those devices would be incompatible from a third-party developer's perspective. We have to make sure those APIs are on all those devices that adopt those platforms. Going forward, that becomes part of our job, our responsibility. A community process harder to manage. We take submissions form community, but it's a much more controlled way in how it comes out.
Andy RubinSVP of Mobile at Google
That makes sense to us. In order to have stable APIs in each update, Google needs to have a tight grip on Android’s development. If it didn’t, all hell would break loose with many Android devices launching with many different APIs — truly fragmenting the OS.
So no, Android is not an open source project in the same way that Firefox or WordPress are. But there’s a good reason for that. Those two products don’t have to deal with keeping a few hundred different devices all compatible with each other. While I know some people will disagree with Google’s decision, I think most of us understand where they’re coming from.