Feeds

Steve Jobs vindicated: Google Android is not open

Android for fondleslabs closed shut

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

If you needed further proof that Android is not an "open platform", Google just supplied it. On Thursday, the company said that as its select partners release the first tablets based on Android "Honeycomb" – the latest version of its mobile operating system – it will not open source the Honeycomb code.

As first reported by Bloomberg Businessweek, Google will delay the distribution of Honeycomb for the foreseeable future. Asked to confirm the story, Google did.

"Android 3.0, Honeycomb, was designed from the ground up for devices with larger screen sizes and improves on Android favorites such as widgets, multi-tasking, browsing, notifications and customization," a company spokesman told us. "While we’re excited to offer these new features to Android tablets, we have more work to do before we can deliver them to other device types including phones. Until then, we’ve decided not to release Honeycomb to open source."

Speaking with Bloomberg, Google's Andy Rubin, who oversees the Android project, made similar noises. "To make our schedule to ship the tablet, we made some design tradeoffs," he said. "We didn't want to think about what it would take for the same software to run on phones. It would have required a lot of additional resources and extended our schedule beyond what we thought was reasonable. So we took a shortcut."

But the reality is surely that Google and its partners don't want smaller name manufacturers eating into their tablet sales. Or perhaps they don't want larger names nabbing pieces of code for their own tablet OSes.

Google partner Motorola has already released its Honeycomb-based tablet, the Xoom, and other manufactures are working on Honeycomb tablets of their own, including Samsung, Dell, HTC, and Acer.

Google has always billed Android as an open source operating system, but the latest version has always been developed behind closed doors. And even when the new version is open sourced, some pieces of the platform – including the Google Android Marketplace and app like Google Maps – remain proprietary. Google also maintains control over the Android trademark.

In the end, this means manufacturers can't build true Android devices unless they play by Google's rules.

In September, the Boston-based Skyhook – which offers a service for pinpointing a mobile device's location via Wi-Fi signals – launched a pair of lawsuits against Google, and as company CEO Skyhook boss Ted Morgan told us late last week, one suit shows that although Google bills Android as open, it's really not.

The suit, filed in Massachusetts state court, accuses Google of using its Android mobile operating system to strong-arm handset manufacturers into using Google's location technology rather than Skyhook's. According to the suit, Andy Rubin – who oversees Google's Android project – told Motorola co-CEO Sanjay Jha that if Motorola handsets didn't drop Skyhook, Google would remove official Android support from the devices. This would mean that Motorola could not use proprietary Google services such as the Android Market or the Android name.

Now, with Honeycomb, Google has gone a step further. With previous versions of the OS, Google typically released code to open source within a few weeks of the arrival of the first device. Members of Google's Open Handset Alliance – the ostensible designers of Android – have access to the Honeycomb, and others can get access if they contact the company's business team and sign a private agreement.

Google had told The Register in the past that Honeycomb would only serve tablets, and it has indicated that it will introduce a similar version for phones as well. But there was no indication that the code wouldn't be promptly open sourced as the first devices were released. What's more, Google did not make a public announcement that it will keep the source closed. The news was broken by Businessweek.

In October, when Steve Jobs publicly called Google's claims of openness "disingenuous", Android chief Andy Rubin responded with the first tweet of his life:

the definition of open: "mkdir android ; cd android ; repo init -u git://android.git.kernel.org/platform/manifest.git ; repo sync ; make"

In other words, Rubin says open means that you can use a command line to create a directory, download the Android source code, and build your own OS.

By that definition, Honeycomb is not open. Sometimes, Steve Jobs is exactly right. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Microsoft on the Threshold of a new name for Windows next week
Rebranded OS reportedly set to be flung open by Redmond
'In... 15 feet... you will be HIT BY A TRAIN' Google patents the SPLAT-NAV
Alert system tips oblivious phone junkies to oncoming traffic
Apple: SO sorry for the iOS 8.0.1 UPDATE BUNGLE HORROR
Apple kills 'upgrade'. Hey, Microsoft. You sure you want to be like these guys?
SMASH the Bash bug! Apple and Red Hat scramble for patch batches
'Applying multiple security updates is extremely difficult'
ARM gives Internet of Things a piece of its mind – the Cortex-M7
32-bit core packs some DSP for VIP IoT CPU LOL
Lotus Notes inventor Ozzie invents app to talk to people on your phone
Imagine that. Startup floats with voice collab app for Win iPhone
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.