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Google hits Android dev with cease-and-desist letter

Open source only goes so far

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Updated Google has sent one of the most prolific independent developers for the Android phone a letter demanding he stop distributing software that greatly expands the capabilities of the fledgling smartphone operating system.

Neither Google nor the developer, who goes by the handle Cyanogen, is saying much about the cease and desist letter. In a short chat transcript posted here, the developer says only that the demand centers around closed-source applications such as Google Maps and Gmail, which are bundled with CyanogenMOD, an Android modification program he maintains and offers for free.

"Google just cease and desisted me," the developer, whose real name is Steve Kondik, writes. "Cyanogenmod is probably going to be dead."

Kondik's claim that his alternative Android OS has more than 30,000 active installations isn't hard to believe given the high praise users lavish on it. They like the regular updates, which bring new features - such as "multitouch" functionality for enlarging a picture by dragging a thumb and forefinger along the display - which often aren't available in official releases.

"It's all very professionally handled and very slickly done and of course it's all being done by one guy for free getting nothing out of it other than the recognition," said Lauren Weinstein, a CyanogenMOD user and co-founder of People for Internet Responsibility. "I have no interest in doing anything illegal or anything like that. I just want to get the most out of these phones."

But while the alternative OS includes plenty of extras, it also bundles proprietary Google applications, and that seems to be the source of the controversy.

"He's a very talented developer," Google's open source programs manager Chris DiBona tweeted Friday. "This is about the closed apps."

But of course, an expanded set of features does no good if they don't come with the apps needed to check maps, email and other basic features.

In a Tweet of his own, Kondik held out the possibility that he and Google might be able to settle the dispute amicably.

"Despite what you may hear, the sky isn't falling," he said, reposting the words of another Twitter user. "Let @cyanogen and Google work out something peacefully." ®

Update

On Friday afternoon, Google's Dan Morrill published an item on the Android developer's blog that attempted to draw a distinction between the open-source OS and the proprietary offerings that run on top of it.

"These apps are Google's way of benefiting from Android in the same way that any other developer can, but the apps are not part of the Android platform itself," he writes. "These apps aren't open source, and that's why they aren't included in the Android source code repository. Unauthorized distribution of this software harms us just like it would any other business, even if it's done with the best of intentions."

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