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Google frees Android from code of secrecy

Closed open platform now open

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When Google calls Android an open mobile platform, it's no longer stretching the truth.

This morning, a day before the debut of the inaugural Android phone, the world's largest ad broker finally released the platform's source code to world+dog. "Today is a big day for Android, the Open Handset Alliance, and the open-source community," reads a blog post from software engineer Dave Bort. "All of the work that we've poured into the mobile platform is now officially available, for free, as the Android Open Source Project."

The project has its very own website, and you can visit it here.

Teaming up with a cavalcade of mobile industry players - including Qualcomm, Motorola, HTC, and Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile) - Google first announced its open platform in November of last year, but chose to keep it closed, privately developing Android without input from the open source community at large.

This riled many old school open source types, including David "Lefty" Schlesinger, who was booted from the official Android discussion group for questioning the platform's open sourciness.

"They want to maintain a facade of being non-evil open source guys," Lefty told The Reg at the time. "But they really want to retain very tight control over this. They're being proprietary while maintaining an appearance of open source."

Answering questions at a Google developer conference that same week, Android product manager Andy Rubin told The Reg that many open source projects start out closed and that his closed open platform would one day be open.

And now it is. Google has opened it up under an Apache license, which allows anyone to use, modify, and redistribute code - even if they don't give back to the community.

The ad broker bills Android not as a Linux-based mobile operating system, but as a "mobile stack" giving you everything you need to build a phone. "It's a complete, end-to-end software platform that can be adapted to work on any number of hardware configurations. Everything is there, from the bootloader all the way up to the applications," Bort writes.

"Interested in working on a speech-recognition library? Looking to do some research on virtual machines? Need an out-of-the-box embedded Linux solution? All of these pieces are available, right now, as part of the Android Open Source Project, along with graphics libraries, media codecs, and some of the best development tools I've ever worked with."

We'll let you judge that last bit for yourself. And it's unclear whether Google has kept portions of the platform out of the code release. Speaking to The Reg in May, Rubin said that code related to "certain Google services" would remain closed. But more on that later.

The first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1, hits stores tomorrow. It lacks PC syncing, Exchange support, a headphone jack, and stereo Bluetooth. But it's ugly enough to give you a good chuckle. ®

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