The Android/Cyanogen Dispute Takes Android in New Directions
Sometimes it takes a dispute to spur change and innovation. This is what comes to mind while watching the aftermath of the recent spat between Google and a developer named Steve Kondik, who also goes by Cyanogen. Kondik's Cyanogenmod software framework is a modified Android ROM that angered Google because it included a number of proprietary Google applications, such as GMail and YouTube. While Google offers its own proprietary applications through Android, the company sent a cease-and-desist letter to Kondik, causing the open source community to rail against Google.
I'm actually in agreement with ZDNet's Dana Blankenhorn, who says that Google was correct to be concerned about use of its proprietary applications because protecting them "lets it retain legal cause against malware aimed at its servers using its software." What's really interesting to see, though, is that both Kondik and the open source community are responding to the dispute with creative Android-based efforts.
People often misconstrue Google's motives. It's important to keep in mind that the company makes the vast majority of its revenues through advertising initiatives that its search engine and other applications feed into. In a post called "Google Apps for Android" Google's Dan Morrill said of the company's proprietary applications:
"These apps are Google’s way of benefiting from Android in the same way that any other developer can, but the apps are not part of the Android platform itself.”
In other words, everything from Google's upcoming Chrome OS to applications such as Gmail help feed more users into Google's entire platform, which eventually helps its lucrative search and advertising efforts. Especially because many Google applications do run in the cloud, the company has the right to exert some control over how they are distributed, particularly because of the threat of unmanaged malware attacks aimed at its servers.
Kondik has responded to Google's cease-and-desist letter by agreeing to develop a workaround, through which he will release a version of his Android-based framework minus Google applications, but allow anyone who has Google applications on, say, a phone, to reinstall them on his own software framework. That's a creative solution.
Even beyond that, though, in reaction, several Android developers have announced the formation of the Open Android Alliance. The developers have a mission statement that is hosted right on Google Code. It says:
"We aim to replace all closed source, proprietary applications in the base Android install with open source applications that can be freely distributed."
That's a creative solution, too, and the developers stress that they are not anti-Google, but pro-Android. You can read more about the Open Android Alliance here, and GigaOm also makes some good points in the aftermath of the Android/Cyanogen dispute. Who knows, maybe this initiative, the result of an open source versus proprietary software smackdown, will result in more choices for Android users and developers.