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Oracle suit outs Google's closed source Android tactics

'Do not develop in the open,' Google tells self

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Oracle's lawsuit against Google over its Android mobile operating system has turned up an internal Google presentation that plainly shows how the web giant shares closed source Android code with select partners to ensure they play by its rules.

"If we gave [Android] away, how do we ensure we get benefit from it? [We] create policies that allow us to drive the standard," the presentation reads, before listing these policies.

"Do not develop in the open. Instead, make source code available after innovation is complete," reads one policy. But it's a second policy that shows why the first benefits Google – and how the company has created an unfair playing field among manufacturers.

"Lead device concept: Give early access to the software to partners who build and distribute devices to our specification (i.e., Motorola and Verizon)," it reads. "They get a non-contractual time to market advantage and in return they align to our standard."

Google has not responded to a request for comment. But the presentation – first noticed by blogger Florian Muller – merely confirms the obvious. Android partners have discussed Google's methods with the press, and a separate lawsuit, from location outfit Skyhook Wireless, called attention to the issue many months ago.

"[This is] no surprise to us as we have been calling attention to these practices for a year now," Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan tells The Register. "The real question for the industry is how long these device makers are going to continue to participate in the Android ecosystem when it is clearly a rigged game."

The presentation also spotlights concerns over Google's recent acquisition of Motorola. Google has said that after the acquisition, it will not change the way it distributes Android code among partners, but Google's policies already play favorites, and the acquisition must, well, weigh on the minds of Motorola competitors. According to reports, some Android partners complained to the DoJ even before the Motorola acquisition.

"Can you imagine that a company like Samsung, HTC, LG or Sony could still trust Google in this regard if Google actually competes with them through a subsidiary?" says Florian Muller, who has closely followed the, shall we say, question marks over Android, including the Oracle suit.

In a recent issue of the IEEE Computing Society's Computing Now, Google engineering directors Alberto Savoia and Patrick Copeland flatly described Android as both open and closed. "Google has many projects that follow either the open or closed model, and others that do not cleanly fit either stereotype. Android and Chrome OS are examples of permeable interfaces between Google and the outside community, and would be defined as open on the surface," they said.

"However, both projects periodically 'go dark' on the community to surprise the market. In a sense, they are both open and closed depending on business needs at any given time."

Though Google officially bills Android as open source, it develops the latest version of the OS in private. Typically, it doesn't open source the code until the first devices are ready for market, and with the latest version of Android – the tablet incarnation known as Honeycomb – it didn't open source the code at all. Honeycomb devices first arrived at the beginning of the year, and Google has said it won't open source new code until the next version, known as Ice Cream Sandwich, arrives sometime this fall.

According a report from Bloomberg Businessweek, Android partners say this general arrangement means that device makers and wireless providers are forced to play by Google's rules if they want to receive the closed source version of the software. Certain manufacturers receive the code before others, and Google tends to rotate this privilege among partners.

And according to Skyhook, this creates an additional problem among Android service providers that compete with Google. In April 2010, Motorola and Samsung agreed to use Skyhook's location services on their Android phones, but by July, both companies had dropped Skyhook in favor of Google's location services. With its suit, Skyhook claims that Google Android chief Andy Rubin told Motorola co-CEO Sanjay Jha that if Motorola didn't remove Skyhook from its Android phones, Google would remove official Android support from the handsets.

This would mean that Motorola could not use the Android trademark or certain proprietary Google services such as the Android Market.

If regulators allow Google's acquisition of Motorola, the web giant wouldn't need to play such games with the handset manufacturer. But it would retain the same power over competing manufacturers and wireless providers – and secure some additional power too. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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