Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Open-Source Is Much Bigger Than An Operating System, It Is A Way Of Life

Creativity is seeing what others see 
and thinking what no one else has ever thought. 
- Albert Einstein

On March 24, 2011 Bloomberg Businessweek announced that Google would be withholding the source code for Honeycomb 3.0(1). Andy Rubin, who heads up Android at Google, released the following statement:
To make our schedule to ship the tablet, we made some design tradeoffs. We didn't want to think about what it would take for the same software to run on phones. It would have required a lot of additional resources and extended our schedule beyond what we thought was reasonable. So we took a shortcut.
Moreover, Rubin stated that Google was concerned that they could not control which devices Honeycomb were to be put on if the they open-sourced the Honeycomb code now, which would create "a really bad user experience. We have no idea if it will even work on phones." (Note: I have used Honeycomb on a phone and it works--the experience is bad.) Rubin ends by stating that "Android is an open-source project. We have not changed our strategy."

This story has been reported on in several different places (the best take on this, in my opinion, was written by Jerry Hildenbrand for Android Central and can be found here). Below is a different, perhaps more philosophical, look at the situation. Google (in this instance Android specifically) has delivered hope to a community that is more important to society than perhaps even they, nor Google, realize. And the refusal to release the Honeycomb source code endangers that hope.

The Shining City Upon A Hill

Whether Google claims it or not, and/or others fail to mention it, Google exists as something more than just another company--it is a glimpse into what industry can become. Businessweek called Google "the open-source crusader doing battle against the leaders in proprietary software—Apple, Microsoft, and Research In Motion,and most would agree that this is accurate. Now, rather or not Google is as open-source as is put forth is debatable, but in the company that Businessweek provided it is safe to say that Google is the open-source alternative. Beyond being an "open-source crusader" Google is also a business. A billion dollar business. As Dave Rosenberg, quoted by Businessweek, stated "[e]veryone expects this level of complete trust from a company that's worth $185 billion. To me, that is ridiculous. You have to be realistic and see that Google will do what is in its best interests at all times." No one is naive to Google's interests, but it is not without merit to see Google as something different, something more. Google brought a relatively unknown open-source community to the mainstream and with that came a different perception that inevitably changes things.

Google created a system that cleverly allowed it to be a corporate giant that towers above ground and yet exists as the resistance in the gutters. They might occasionally be coy, but as stated in a post by Tim Bray, Android engineer, Android "can only hope that [corporations] will . . . not force users to choose between [] openness and security." Android may be hoping, or are the hope, but what they allow (or used to allow in the present case) arms a cause. Cyanogen, JesusFreke, Koush,  Supercurio, Amon-Ra, PaulOBrien and others are creating a virtual environment that requires the wizard to forego the curtain. These individuals and their teams can commonly be found in forums putting together "ROMs" to improve the functionality of Android devices. What is amazing about this is not that it is being done, but how its done. Every change is logged and communicated. Moreover, each change is given to others to be improved upon. In forums these same individuals are constantly available to assist with fixing issues and offering their time to instruct new users. And what are they paid in return? Very little to nothing, in fact. Presumably they do it because the idea is bigger than the person and because they feel like something honest and transparent is happening and they want to be a part of it. They are bound by their belief that liberty produces a greater result than tyranny.

Diversity Cannot Exist Without Creation; Creation Cannot Exist Without Diversity

@cyangogen: I think Google is doing the right thing by not releasing 3.0 source, because it's probably a pile of nasty hacks. 2.3 and 3.0 were developed in parallel with different goals. I'd rather see them get it right and release code that plays nice everywhere. I'll give em time to get it right . . .
@koush: I disagree. It seems every large manufacturer DOES have access to the Honeycomb source. It's just community devs that don't. Ie, Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola, and possibly Viewsonic have it. It's just the enthusiast hackers that are missing out.

Google not releasing Honeycomb is not the end of the world, but it is a reminder of Google's corporate status--remember Mr. Rubin above states they are not changing their "strategy" as opposed to their "belief" in open-source--and, truth be told, the proper position rests somewhere in between the positions taken in the conversation above between @cyanogen and @koush. Everyone understands that failure to release the Honeycomb source code will be a cause of frustration and uneasiness for "members of the open-source community, many of whom are financially and philosophically invested in Android," but there is also a lesson to be learned here as well, as has been eluded to above: "Long experience teaches people that exposing the code to the community helps more than it hurts you" (quoting Eben Moglen, professor of Law at Columbia Law School and the founding director of the Software Freedom Law Center). 

The sharing, or often times referred to as The Marketplace, of ideas is a crucial element of creativity. The development community has done much to improve upon Android and their creativity is not limited to 2.X versions of software. Psychologist Frank Barron believed that "one's creative works can also stimulate others' creativity, as those works have a capacity to create new conditions," and the bedrock ideas, like sharing code, are the "new conditions" that are necessary to move open-source forward. And the summit of this open-source idea is not just better software, but also a better community. The forums are replete with individuals who offer their time and talents to help their fellow Android users. This is a fact that should not be glanced at, but taken in and championed. Why does the Android user have this generous community at their disposal? The answer is that open-source information gives the "[f]reedom to create [which in turn produces] a society that is not invested in controlling creative outcomes," (Dacey and Lennon, 1998), rather is invested in the best outcome of all. Perhaps even . . . for all. 


In sum, it is understood that Google created Android and it is certainly reasonable to argue that Google has a right to do with their own creation as they see fit, and while that is polite politics, it is not the sort of concept that influenced Google to hold the philosophy that one "can make money without doing evil" or open-source their software for the world to enjoy. Creativity is a communal concept that requires the commingling of diversity and creation in order to reach its potential. Thus, Honeycomb could only benefit from giving the code to the community. 

P.S. Pouring Salt In The Wound

An article from PCWorld has reported that "[a]pparently Google's licensing agreement with manufacturers specifically prevents them from upgrading the smartphone-oriented Android 2.X to tablet-optimized Android 3.0 Honeycomb." So, Galaxy Tab owners are out-of-luck it seems, as they have no update and no source code. There is one hope at the moment though as spacemoose1 is currently working on a build. See the XDA forum here. Moreover, the article discusses the upcoming HTC Flyer, which has promised a Honeycomb update. "If true, the rumor of the Android 2.X tablets not being able to upgrade to Honeycomb could also affect some other tablets expected later this year on the market. One notable example is the HTC Evo 4G(the stateside version of the HTC Flyer)."

UPDATE: It Might Be Getting Worse

A report on Engadget states that Google is "now demanding that content partnerships and OS tweaks get the blessing of Andy Rubin before proceeding." While there are some instances where I appreciate this (yes I am talking to you MotoBlur, TouchWiz, and Sense) it is also a dramatic move away from what makes Android great. The article quotes Nokia's Stephen Elop as saying:
"The premise of a true open software platform may be where Android started, but it's not where Android is going."
The story can be found below in the sources.


As always, all of the information you need to do your own research is below. I encourage you to look up the sources and read the stories for yourself, leave a comment here if you have something to say, and follow my Twitter (@GhostWriterv9) and the social networking pages of the person's involved so that you can get a diverse take on the story.


Dacey, J. S. and Lennon, K. H. (1998). Understanding Creativity: The Interplay of Biological, Psychological, and Social Factors. San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass.

Hildenbrand, J. (24 March 2011). Honeycomb won't be open-sourced? Say it ain't so! Android Central. Retrieved on 30 March 2011 from

Ionescu, D. (28 March 2011). Nexus Android Honeycomb Tablet Expected from Google. PCWorld. Retrieved on 30 March 2011 from

Kralevich, N. (Posted by Bray, T.). (20 December 2010). It’s not “rooting”, it’s openness. Android Developers. Retrieved on 30 March 2011 from

Savov, V. (31 March 2011). Google tightening control of Android, insisting licensees abide by 'non-fragmentation clauses'? Engadget. Retrieved on 31 March 2011 from

Vance, A. and Stone, B. (24 March 2011). Google Holds Honeycomb Tight: It will delay distribution of new Android tablet source code to outside programmers. Bloomberg Newsweek. Retrieved on 30 March 2011 from

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