Home Where Does Android Register on Google’s “Evil” Meter?

Where Does Android Register on Google’s “Evil” Meter?

As we mentioned briefly last night, Google is going to attempt to reintegrate Android into the main Linux kernel – the code had been booted in December because it was “no longer being cared for,” according to Greg Kroah-Hartman, the Novell developer who maintains the staging, USB and driver core for Linux. The reintroduction process will take years, says Google open source programs manager Chris DiBona.

On the one hand, it’s good to see Google trying to do the right thing by the open source community, but on the other hand, the argument could be made that Google appropriated Linux for its own for-profit ends without giving back.
This move has been dubbed by some as “evil,” (in reference to Google’s infamous company motto, “Do No Evil”). The issue: Google forked Android’s development into private branches, implemented a closed code review process and and then trademarked the “Android” name all while providing an incomplete public software developers kit which is missing several key items needed to build a Android-based handset. Open? No. But is that evil?

The Arguments as to Android “Openness”…or Lack Thereof

Vision Mobile’s research director Andreas Constantinou makes these same points and more over on the blog run by the market analysis and strategy firm. The post, entitled “Is Android Evil?” is worth reading in its entirety. But we’ll summarize some of the main points here by snipping out a handful of his top arguments as to why Android isn’t really open source software:

  1. Private branches: As noted above, select partners (OEMs mostly) have access to private codelines that are estimated to be 6+ months ahead of the public SDK. This allows them to stay competitive.
  2. Close review process: All code reviewers work for Google. Few outside contributions get in with no explanation as to why.
  3. Speed of evolution: Google innovates on Android so quickly that OEMs have no choice but to remain close to the company in order to get in on the new features and bug fixes.
  4. Incomplete software: The public SDK lacks radio integration, international language packs and operator packs.
  5. Android is a trademarked name.
  6. Private roadmap: The published roadmap is a year out of date. You have to contact Google to see the private one.

Constantinou makes a few other arguments, too, like how the Android Marketplace is controlled by Google for example, but that’s not really as important to this issue – especially since there’s no Apple-like review process when it comes to accepting new applications.

Another argument to Android’s not-so-open nature is that Google chose the Apache license so the derivative code doesn’t have to be contributed back. Google’s DiBona dismissed this, claiming differentiation is good and enables commercial vendors to succeed, according to the ZDNet report.

Profit Isn’t Evil

Commercial success with Linux isn’t a new (or “evil”) idea, though. Distributions like Redhat, SuSE, Oracle Unbreakable Linux – heck, even Tivo – among many others have turned a profit thanks to Linux. That’s not evil, that’s just good business.

But the issue here is that Google is succeeding commercially on top of Linux while making changes to Android that are not shared with the community. Meanwhile, they get to promote “Android” as “open,” when, in reality, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

The question we ask now is this: does this make the Android business “evil?” Or does Google get a pass since Android is far more open, comparatively speaking, than most other mobile operating systems today? Where does Android fall on Google’s “evil meter? in your eyes?

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