Google Android: The Difference Between "Open" and "Open Source"

by Ostatic Staff - Jul. 16, 2008

As it continues its sometimes-rocky march to an actual release, Google's Android mobile phone platform is now fighting a sort of internal revolt from upset developers. The problem stems from the unsteady release rate of the Android SDK, a necessary tool for anyone who wants to build applications for Android phones.

The first hints of real trouble came a couple of weeks ago, when developers - tired of fighting bugs in a months-old SDK build - started asking for a roadmap of future releases. Not only did Google ignore this request, but they did something worse (from the point of view of many developers): they released a fresh SDK build to a few favored developers, and then accidentally leaked the news themselves.

From a legal standpoint, Google has done nothing wrong here: although some of the SDK components are under an open source license, some are not yet covered - and the license being used is the ASL, which doesn't require them to ship updates evenly, as we've mentioned before. But from an open source viewpoint, this outcome is disappointing. Coupled with the fact that Google hasn't updated its vague statement about open source licensing in months, one has to question the depth of their commitment to openness on this project.

Of course, there are levels of openness, and developers are free to choose the one they want to support. The recent success of the iPhone 3G and AppStore launch indicates that it's quite possible to be successful with a completely-closed platform. On the other extreme, the OpenMoko platform is completely open. Android still has a chance to end up on the more open end of the spectrum - but only if they attend to the developer community and demonstrate a commitment to leveling the playing field for everyone.