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Open sourcers strike back at Google cease-and-desist

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Three days after Google told an independent developer to stop bundling proprietary applications with his alternative Android operating system, fans of the popular package have shot back with plans to work around the move.

The developer, who goes by the name Cyanogen, said here that he plans to overhaul his CyanogenMod platform so it no longer includes GTalk, YouTube, and other Google-supplied apps that are widely regarded as essential to any Android OS. But in a clever work-around, he will include software with his bare-bones offering that will allow users to install those closed-source programs without molesting Google's copyrights.

"In order to get our beloved Google sync and applications back, you'll need to make a backup first," the developer, whose real name is Steve Kondik, wrote. "The idea is that you'll be able to Google-ify your CyanogenMod installation, with the applications and files that shipped on YOUR device already."

Kondik didn't respond to a request to comment for this article, but his thinking seems to be that since it's legal for Android owners to make backups of the apps they legally acquired, there can be no prohibition against them installing those programs on top of the alternative Android OS. He's working on software that will do just that, he writes.

With more than 30,000 active installations, CyanogenMod has proved to be popular with Android enthusiasts. They like the availability of features such "multitouch," which comes standard on smartphones such as Apple's iPhone, but that still aren't included with Android. They also say CyanogenMod is sometimes weeks ahead Google in fixing bugs and swear the alternative OS is more stable too.

But without the basics such as Android Market, Maps, and GTalk, they say any alternative OS is hopelessly neutered. Late last week, when Google's legal demands were first reported, Kondik warned he would be forced to withdraw CyanogenMod altogether. He published his plan to work around using backups on Sunday.

Cyanogen's announcement came as a separate group of open-source developers said they planned to create an Android alternative that includes their own versions of the closed-source apps that Google is forbidding Kondik from redistributing. Dubbed the Open Android Alliance, the project plans to write or borrow open-source clones of those apps that are built from the ground up so that Google has no legal claim over any of the code.

"We're trying to make the Android it should have been in the first place, completely free, open source [so that] anyone can use whatever, because we're not keeping applications to ourselves," said Jared Rusch, a 19-year-old college student in Saskatoon, Canada, studying web development said of the outfit. "We believe Android is a good platform to build upon and who knows, maybe we can make something better than it originally was."

Rusch and other project members say an alpha should be available anywhere from two weeks to two months from now. While Kondik isn't directly involved in the Open Android Alliance, he has agreed to make his code available as the foundation to the project, said Cody Davey, another team member.

While Google has long promoted Android as an open platform that anyone can use, it considers many of the applications that run on top of it proprietary property that can't be distributed by third parties. Google has yet to explain its rationale. One likely reason is that the Mountain View, California-based company uses the apps as incentives to get phone carriers to offer Android phones in the first place.

Google representatives didn't respond to a request for comment for this article.

The prohibition has struck many Android enthusiasts as distinctly "un-Googly" since it threatens to strip essential capabilities, including the ability to sync, from all alternative OSes. And that has caused some to question the value of the platform being open source in the first place.

Said Davey: "We as a community have come together with a common goal of making Android open [as] it was first advertised." ®

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