Linux users may already be well aware of the old “what’s open source and what’s not” argument. Certain flavours of Linux will appear without certain parts you’d expect because they’re not legally allowed to be distributed that way. Sure, you can download the bits your need after you’ve got the OS – that’s fine. Or you can download an entirely different Linux distribution from a certain vendor that includes the bits, but only from an official source. This, it would seem, is the stance Google are now taking with one of the major Android tweakers and, if it continues, it could cause a pretty major backlash and lack of support from the community.
The official line has now been posted by Google and it basically states that ..
“Android apps for many of our services like YouTube, Gmail, Google Voice, and so on [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. We make some of these apps available to users of any Android-powered device via Android Market, and others are pre-installed on some phones through business deals. Either way, these apps aren’t open source, and that’s why they aren’t included in the Android source code repository. Unauthorized distribution of this software harms us just like it would any other business, even if it’s done with the best of intentions.”
This is pretty big. Just to put this into perspective, xda-developers.com have, if we’re brutally honest, been pretty much ignored by Microsoft for many years. Windows Mobile ROM’s are all over the place with 6.5 builds appearing weekly for every WinMo phone on the planet. What’s happened to those people working on tweaking every bit of the OS and TouchFLO, then redistributing the (paid-for) OS, complete with Office Apps and all manner of Microsoft copyrighted material ? Nothing really. Now, with the tweaked builds appearing for Android and the whole “modding” scene just starting, Google have effectively put the brakes on. Personally I’m hoping that those modders can find a way around – possibly by releasing “vanilla” builds of Android without the Google closed-source apps above but with a big link to press afterward to allow download of those apps.
Update – Following this post, Cyanogen has stated that he intends to do pretty much what we discussed – i.e. Produce vanilla builds of Android without the “Google experience” apps (GMail, YouTube etc), but also he intends to produce an app to let you backup those apps (that you paid for by buying the phone) to your PC so you can restore them after. Interestingly, this is probably a better solution which will keep modders and Google happy and is a lot more legal than the tweaking happening on the Windows Mobile side of the fence.
More info – androidandme.com