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

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[4]: Huh?
by Tony Swash on Tue 22nd Oct 2013 11:45 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Huh?"
Tony Swash
Member since:
2009-08-22

What idea?

I can check out the Android code, change it, build it, and run it. How is that not open?


In the real world you can do almost nothing with the Android code of any substance or impact without being essentially excluded from Google services, Google controlled APIs and the Open Handset Alliance. You can tinker, as long as nothing you do is of any consequence for Google but if it touches Google's interests you are dead in the water.

The only entity with big enough resources to fork Android and break Google's grip is probably Samsung and even for a company as rich and powerful as Samsung that would be a high risk strategy.

The Android strategy has never been about being 'open' since it's inception (although Rubin for a while became a champion of Android itself rather than of Google's interests and was sacked as a result). It's a business strategy for Google, an advertising company, that needs to drive ever greater numerical use of it's services, and thus sell more ads, as the world transitions to the mobile web and to a lower price per click for ads. Google needs volume now. Everything Google is doing, especially Google+, is driven by the need to increase the reach of it's user data acquisition and ad serving capacity. Openness was always only a wrapping for Android, a way to increase it's spread and penetration and a way to market it to the Technorati and calm the fears of the OEMs.

There is nothing wrong with any of that, it's a legitimate business strategy, if a bit duplicitous. What's far more shocking is how many people actually bought the 'Android is open' bullshit and even became evangelical champions of it.

If you came across a hedge fund handing out great quality free T-shirts at a convention you wouldn't start to think they were a company dedicated to making great free T-shirts, you would think it was a way to promote their real business of fund management.

Even if you really liked their great free T-shirts.

It's the same with Google.

Reply Parent Score: 4

RE[5]: Huh?
by ddc_ on Tue 22nd Oct 2013 12:45 in reply to "RE[4]: Huh?"
ddc_ Member since:
2006-12-05

Well, Android is indeed open: you can audit it and even change something for your own use. Though I never really tried to collect any real numbers I believe that this goes quite in line with the general attitude towards Android in the tech-savvy part of the net.

Arguably it isn't much less open then Linux: you can easily fork both, but you have to back it up with awful lot of resources in order to get your fork "above radar", not to mention usage share above statistical error. So practical difference between openness of GPLed Linux and AOSP is not all that dramatic.

Reply Parent Score: 5

RE[5]: Huh?
by Thom_Holwerda on Tue 22nd Oct 2013 13:32 in reply to "RE[4]: Huh?"
Thom_Holwerda Member since:
2005-06-29

In the real world you can do almost nothing with the Android code of any substance or impact without being essentially excluded from Google services, Google controlled APIs and the Open Handset Alliance.


So? The same applies to the Linux kernel. You can do with it whatever you want, but you need explicit approval from Linus & Co. before your changes make it to mainline so you can make use of the hosting/peer review infrastructure behind Linux. Without said explicit approval, you'll have to maintain and host your own kernel, and take care of your own peer review. Android is no different.

Are you saying Linux is not open source?

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[6]: Huh?
by Tony Swash on Tue 22nd Oct 2013 16:35 in reply to "RE[5]: Huh?"
Tony Swash Member since:
2009-08-22

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.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[5]: Huh?
by BallmerKnowsBest on Tue 22nd Oct 2013 20:49 in reply to "RE[4]: Huh?"
BallmerKnowsBest Member since:
2008-06-02

The Android strategy has never been about being 'open' since it's inception (although Rubin for a while became a champion of Android itself rather than of Google's interests and was sacked as a result).


-1 (Inaccurate).

I'm going to go ahead and call bullshit on that one.

What's far more shocking is how many people actually bought the 'Android is open' bullshit and even became evangelical champions of it.


And yet, I've never seen you actually point to even a single example in the 2-3 years you've been repeating that tired old saw - other than your disingenuous attempts to paint ANYONE defending any aspect of Android with that brush. At this point, it's painfully obvious that these supposed legions of starry-eyed, naive Google fanboys don't exist anywhere except in your imagination.

Reply Parent Score: 4

RE[6]: Huh?
by Tony Swash on Tue 22nd Oct 2013 20:57 in reply to "RE[5]: Huh?"
Tony Swash Member since:
2009-08-22

"The Android strategy has never been about being 'open' since it's inception (although Rubin for a while became a champion of Android itself rather than of Google's interests and was sacked as a result).


-1 (Inaccurate).

I'm going to go ahead and call bullshit on that one.
"

Plus it was Rubin that pushed for the financially disastrous and farcical Motorola purchase, cost 13$ and counting. Rubin was a champion of Android, what Page wanted was a champion of Google.

BTW why do think Rubin was dumped?

Reply Parent Score: 1

RE[5]: Huh?
by ilovebeer on Wed 23rd Oct 2013 05:44 in reply to "RE[4]: Huh?"
ilovebeer Member since:
2011-08-08

As many times as you've explained this, you'd think people would understand it by now. I guess the fact that Google is a for-profit business and always acts in its own interests is just hard to grasp for some.

Reply Parent Score: 1

RE[6]: Huh?
by BallmerKnowsBest on Wed 23rd Oct 2013 15:33 in reply to "RE[5]: Huh?"
BallmerKnowsBest Member since:
2008-06-02

As many times as you've explained this, you'd think people would understand it by now. I guess the fact that Google is a for-profit business and always acts in its own interests is just hard to grasp for some.


BUWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Yeah you two are a regular Holmes and Watson all right!

Hate to break it to you, son, but everyone else already figured out that years ago.

Reply Parent Score: 3