There has been a lot of talk about Openness and Fragmentation in Android over the past few months. Frankly most of the articles have been misleading at best and flat out wrong at times.
There are two major issues surrounding Android right now:
Android 3.0 images was released in Feburary. Motorola rolled out the Xoom which uses Android 3.0. Publicly the source code to Android 3.0 isn’t available. Frankly I don’t know how Google can do this, as many things such as the Linux kernel is GPL licenced and must be released. Linksys got sued by the FSF for the same issue, you can read about it here. Frankly this bothers me a lot, Google is flat out disregarding copyright law. In other words, Google = Evil.
The Second issue is the lack of hardware that is both unlocked and rooted. Of course you could root your own phone, but I would much rather just buy an unlocked / rooted phone where everything is on the up and up. For a long time now Google has sold developer phones that were unlocked and rooted. Now they are out of stock and have been for quite some time. Whats the point of having open source if you have closed hardware? Don’t give me the bull about how the carries want it locked, they sell tons of myfi’s and usb 3g cards that lets anything on to their networks. It works the same in the phone, there is a little wireless radio chip that handles the network communication.
The lack of open hardware is what is causing the issue of fragmentation. Users have phones with old Android loads and want to upgrade them to latest and greatest. Users see their phones as mini-computers where they should be able to upgrade. In fact due to carrier upgrades, users know they can upgrade them. Manufactures see phones as consumer electronic devices that get thrown away after 12 months or so, so they stop updating them. In other words Manufactures and Carriers = Evil.
Journalists see all the operating systems in use as fragmentation, but to me its not. An application that runs on Android 1.0 will run just fine on 3.0. Its similar to Windows, where you might have windows xp and windows 7 on the same networking, running the same programs, but operating systems are diffrent. To me fragmentation is more like the Unix enviroments of the 80’s and 90’s where you had things like AIX and Solaris which were pretty close from an operating system view but couldn’t run application written for each other, unless explicitly designed to. This problem doesn’t exist in Android as of today.
So we get to openness and freedom. I started thinking about current consumer products and how open/free they are.
Generic PC and Linux: Free/Open software and hardware (most of the time, on the hardware) I would say this as open as it gets
Generic PC and Windows: Open hardware / Closed os, but runs any software. I would consider this open/free, but not as much as if it was running Linux. I can upgrade and do what I want.
Mac PC and Mac OS: Semi open hardware / Semi Open Hardware. I don’t consider this free, Apple is stingy with drivers and information at times. You can run Linux pretty well, and Windows, but you can tell its second fiddle. Start getting a little nervous about my rights…
Android Device: Closed hardware, Open source OS (except for ‘skins’ like sense, and when you can’t get it like 3.0) Its just not free to me, whats the point of a open source operating system if you can’t run it on your device? Annoying long term.
iOS Device: Closed Hardware, Closed Source. Not free. Won’t use. Don’t even want to write apps for it.
I have been hearing many people talk about how Android is the Windows of the Phone world. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Windows is closed source, Android is mostly open source. Windows runs on open hardware, Android runs on locked down devices. The ramifications are totally different. Locked devices like Android make it hard for things like Linux to happen, how would you get started? I know you can root your phone, but you shouldn’t have to, its YOUR phone. There may come a day where a phone or device can’t be rooted.
Why does this matter? Closed hardware makes updates much harder. Its pissing off users of older devices. It makes it much harder for developers. Its unethical to call something open source and then not release it to everyone, because you are worried that the market will flood with cheep tablets. I hope that the Android team does something about it. I sincerely believe that Android could be the dominate Operating system stack for all computers in the near future. I hope they don’t drive it in to the ground and turn it in to cable tv.
If someone from the Microsoft Windows Phone team reads this, if you kept your os closed and hardware open you could win (no pun) the game. Android developers are getting fed up.
So what do you think?