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Google cracks open Android's closed development

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OSCON Google will crack open more of Android's development process but keep new versions of its mobile OS closed for competitive reasons.

The giant will change Android's Native code Development Kit (NDK) so that contributed code joins the publicly available Android source tree rather than going into Google's private tree.

There's no date for when the switch will take place, but it should follow a similar move on the Android Software Development Kit (SDK).

Public contributions won't be possible on un-released versions of Android though. That will remain hidden, and Android's development will remain a private affair.

Google wants to retain competitive advantage and prevent a scenario where OEMs ship unfinished source code on phones with disastrous consequences for developers and end users as their code breaks or applications downloaded from the Android Market fail to work.

According to Google, this has nearly happened before when one unnamed OEM wanted to start shipping pre-release the Android 1.5 - codenamed Cupcake - on its phones.

Defending the private development of what is a Linux platform, Android open-source and compatibility program manager Dan Morrill told the O'Reilly Open-Source Convention (OSCON) in Portland, Oregon that Google couldn't afford for this to happen, so some development of new platforms is done in private.

"We realize we struck a balance a lot people in the fee software community might not think is ideal, but we think it works for us," Morrill said.

Speaking to The Reg, Morrill said Google wants contributions from the community because they add value and is looking on a project-by-project basis at what it can make open.

"There's no reason not to be in the open. We do have specific reasons for why some things we do we keep internal, because we compete with other companies in the electronics space," Morrill said.

Despite this closed development process, participation in Android is growing. Google claimed submission rates on Froyo were 150 per cent higher than contributions to the previous Éclair. Forty companies are official Android contributors with 1,000 contributions since launch.

Morrill also noted that Google is trying to convince phone hardware providers like Qualcomm and Texas Instruments to open up their code to work with Android features such as the radio interface link – a hardware abstraction layer. He said Google has got a long way to go but the company is working with companies to "make them realize this isn't strategic." ®

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