Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 21st Oct 2013 22:15 UTC, submitted by ddc_

Ars Technica has a great article about what, exactly, Google is doing to retain (or retake) control over Android. Many things were already known, and have, in fact, been discussed here before. For instance, the Open Handset Alliance prohibits its members from forking Android or using other companies' forks. This had been known for a long time, and has always been an important aspect of the OHA - its goal is to prevent the fragmentation of Android, after all. Another thing we've always known is that the Google Applications - like YouTube and such - have always been closed source, and that a license is required to use them (they are freely available though, and Android is completely usable about them.

There are two bigger problems, however. First, the more Google moves parts of Android to Google Play (such as the keyboard or calendar), the less open source Android becomes.

For some of these apps, there might still be an AOSP equivalent, but as soon as the proprietary version was launched, all work on the AOSP version was stopped. Less open source code means more work for Google's competitors. While you can't kill an open source app, you can turn it into abandonware by moving all continuing development to a closed source model. Just about any time Google rebrands an app or releases a new piece of Android onto the Play Store, it's a sign that the source has been closed and the AOSP version is dead.

There's definitely an opportunity here for groups like CyanogenMod - and in fact, that's exactly what's happening. For instance, CM has created the camera application Focal, which is available in the Play Store. In other words, most of the Google Applications can be recreated and improved upon easily, after which they can be placed in the Play Store. An exception, of course, is the Play Store application itself, but even that one has alternatives, such as the Amazon App Store.

A bigger problem, however, are the Google Play Services. This is an Android application - closed source - that provides developers with access to a whole bunch of Google's APIs. It's becoming more and more mandatory.

Taking the Android app ecosystem from Google seems easy: just get your own app store up and running, convince developers to upload their apps to it, and you're on your way. But the Google APIs that ship with Play Services are out to stop this by convincing developers to weave dependence on Google into their apps. Google's strategy with Google Play Services is to turn the "Android App Ecosystem" into the "Google Play Ecosystem" by making a developer's life as easy as possible on a Google-approved device - and as difficult as possible on a non-Google-approved device.

In other words, there's a lot going on at Google to prevent more forks, such as Kindle Fire, from happening. I had no issues with Google's own applications being closed source (you can easily replace them), but the Play Services are a much bigger issue. As more and more applications adopt Play Services, the harder it'll become to run Android 'Google free' - and that's not exactly an ideal situation.

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RE[6]: Huh?
by Tony Swash on Tue 22nd Oct 2013 16:35 UTC in reply to "RE[5]: Huh?"
Tony Swash
Member since:

Are you saying Linux is not open source?

No. What I am saying is that Google has very cleverly hacked the whole concept of Open Source to suit their long term corporate aims. Like a clever lawyer exploiting a loop hole in the law it is perfectly possible to still argue that Android is open source but the point is that Android and the infrastructure it is wrapped in is exquisitely designed to achieve one outcome: the absolute domination of Google services and it's commercial interests. That's not unethical or illegal or even bad, it's just a business strategy but I do think that it must undermine the stated ethics and principals and hopes of supporters of open source and the wider open source community. Was the idea behind open source that one private profit making company should have a strangle hold on the planet's largest and most important open source project in order to foster it's own commercial profit making interests? You tell me.

It's not a question of making money or profit from open source being wrong, it's a question of whether the way Google runs Android can be still called open source in anything other than a technical sense.

Imagine if Linux was still technically open source but the whole shape and structure of Linux had been designed so that one very large and rich corporation actually controlled it completely in a practical sense. If that one large company could ultimately dictate who could do what with Linux, a company could put such obstacles in the path of anybody who did anything that impinged on their business interests that such endeavours were blocked. Would that really measure up to your hopes for open source. Would it represent what open source was intended to be about? You tell me.

Google have been so clever about how they have designed Android and it's support structures, so methodical and relentless about how they have pushed it's evolution in just one direction, that hasn't Android in reality moved so far beyond what the original concept of open source was all about that it has undermined the original meaning of open source. Isn't it about time that the concept of open source was forked? On the one hand classical open source and on the other a new concept to cover the sort of walled garden curated open source that Google is running.

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