44 Responses

  1. Questions on Android phones?
    Questions on Android phones? at |

    […] shantanugoel is Online Fanatic Member Join Date: Dec 2008 Posts: 234 Is Android Open Source Or Not? | Shantanu's Technophilic Musings And if anyone wants to discuss this any further, don't make any sweeping statements, read and […]

  2. Kasper Souren
    Kasper Souren at |

    I didn’t read your whole essay but the Linux kernel is available under the GNU General Public License, which makes it free software and open source.

  3. TonyTheTiger
    TonyTheTiger at |

    This is a useful and mostly correct document, but you’ve got a couple of mistakes.

    Firstly, I’d suggest that you could have skipped some of the defensive tone e.g. (“LOL” as part of one answer) and have a stronger response. It’s entirely reasonable for someone to not know that FLOSS software can be trademarked.

    Second, I’m fairly sure that Android is “Free Software” as defined by the FSF. Almost all “Open Source” as defined by OSI is also “Free Software”. The FSF would *prefer* if code was copyleft (like GPL) and prevented tivoization (like GPLv3) but that doesn’t make BSD or Apache code non-free, even though it allows people to make non-free derivatives from it.

    You could also argue that Steve Jobs is cleverly not talking about “open source”, but rather about “open”, a word/concept with no actual definition, which make it very easy to argue about pointlessly. I would assume this is intentional as this is similar to how he cleverly interchanges the concepts of “open standards” and “industry standards”, arguing for the former when it’s HTML5 vs Flash, but then quickly accepting the latter as fine when it’s Theora/WebM vs H.264. You’ll find plenty of people online confused by this into thinking that e.g. H.264 is an open standard, but you’ll rarely catch Apple out in using the wrong term.

  4. Kasper Souren
    Kasper Souren at |

    FSF’s free software _philosophy_ is reflected in GPLv3. The FSF free software definition (the 4 freedoms) also includes the GPLv2 and many other free software licenses:

    If you want more clarity, read http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html

  5. Jacob
    Jacob at |

    “In short, Free Software Movement, as the one evangelized by FSF, is a subset of open source that tries to achieve freedom of software by restriction.”

    This is incorrect. Open Source is a subset of Free Software (as Free Software predates Open Source), a subset that tries to improve Free Software through a pragmatic development model.

    And the “restriction” you speak of is the same “restriction” that we have on our freedom here in the U.S., such as murder is illegal, theft is illegal, and the most similar “restriction” on freedom is that slavery is illegal; in other words it’s illegal to take away from another person the same freedom your government granted you.

    Why should this be any different for software?

  6. eMBee
    eMBee at |

    “Allegation: Google does a lot of development in private for few months and then releases the code to public.
    Answer: Almost every open source project I know does this. ”

    then you don’t know a lot of projects.
    Gnomes development tree is out in the open, so is the one from Xorg, the Linux kernel, Firefox, OpenOffice, KDE, debian, ubuntu, fedora, even Googles Chromium, and many many more have their development trees readable by the public. anyone can follow the current development of those projects. only android is one of those high profile projects that does not show their development trees to the public. just like opensolaris, which used to have a public development tree before oracle closed it up again.

    this does not mean that android or opensolaris are not Free Software or Open Source, but it certainly does mean that the allegation: “Google does a lot of development in private for few months and then releases the code to public.” is true!

    all your other points are valid however.
    thank you for your article

    greetings, eMBee.

  7. Rangnar
    Rangnar at |

    The mainline Ubuntu, debian, openSuSE distros don’t include any code that restricts the rights of the user (i.e. patent protected like mp3). And the “freedom” doesn’t stop at the hardware. I can put GNU/Linux on hardware and if it runs on the hardware, _I_ can change it. _I can_ switch between distros and gui the way I like.

    Allowing to close a mobile is, due to the experience I made using OSS, paternalism.

    I’m grown. I don’t bear paternalism or slavery, even when it comes as a present. Neither by state, Google, HTC or Apple.

    As long as Google doesn’t fight locking Android phones, Android has nothing to do with OpenSource. And don’t tell me, locked Android phones are by chance. That is one of the main basics the Android design is based on.

  8. Is Android Open Source or Not? Let’s settle this once and for all | everbeta.com

    […] © Shantanu Goel | Is Android Open Source Or Not? […]

  9. markit
    markit at |

    Then conclusion is… that is not Free as in Freedom!
    I have a GNU/Linux workstation, and I love the freedom I have with all Free software installed (no proprietary software there).
    I also own a G1, and that is a different story!
    Everyone have to keep in mind that the goal of Free Software movement is the freedom of the users, not the freedom of doing whatever you want with the code.
    So the license of Android makes me suffer because:
    a) I had to root my cell phone to install Cyanogen ROM, because the one (1.1) the only seller of the device in Italy was no upgraded and was also broken (so, without hacking the device, I had no freedom 1 the freedom do help myself modifying the code)
    b) important application, the google ones, are proprietary, and I have some problems with them and can’t modify and improve (i.e. calendar…). In addition, makes install roms more complicated.
    c) all the market is distincted from “gratis/no cost/free” app and “pay” app, not by license or Free/Proprietary, so find proprietary software to install is a nightmare
    d) the system seems not to encourage the development of Free software, so I’ve had to install some proprietary programs on it, and is REALLY scaring since I don’t know what they really do with my data/position/credit/etc.. Let’s face it, proprietary software is a madness, you surrender your freedom to someone else you CAN’T really trust.
    So, in the conclusion, I’m happy with android only because other alternatives, at least when I bought G1, were more closed, but really don’t consider it a device that gives me freedom, I hate it because of this.

  10. Rahul Sundaram
    Rahul Sundaram at |

    GPLv2 is Free software as well. FSF has even recommended a permissive license in some specific circumstances but you are missing the point which is that unlike the Linux kernel which has a enormous multi vendor community, Google’s control over Android is unusual and atypical compared to other large open source projects.

  11. Rahul Sundaram
    Rahul Sundaram at |

    I think “restrictive” is not the right word. GPL is a reciprocal or copyleft license. BSD is a permissive license. The restrictions are part of copyright law and not GPL itself.

  12. markit
    markit at |

    Depends. Is your article just a theoretical / legal question about Android license definition, or is it about the real benefit “open source” (or better Free Software) gives to users?
    If the latter (that is what affects our lives), my objections stand. If the former, your reply is correct.
    In any case, well written article!

  13. nuna
    nuna at |

    Actually vs. Effectively, free or closed.

    Though Google’s Android core falls under an actual Open-Source, and even a Free-Software compatible license, the platform is effectively not open at all.

    The two key points of contention here are: 1)The fact that the most desirable core Google apps and the apps store are kept proprietary and their usage are highly restricted, making any device shipped without them utterly useless by most end user’s perspective.

    2)That Google has left to the Android device manufacturers the option to effectively take any and all of these core OSS/FLOSS freedoms away from their product’s end-users through locking down the hardware. This was done intentionally by Google in my mind because, though the core Android OS is under an OSS/FLOSS license that does in fact allow for the device manufacturers to lock down their hardware, the Android brand/Trademark could easily be used by Google to stop device lock-downs. i.e. No open hardware, no Android brand.

    The author of this article has skirted these core contentious issues by setting up and knocking down voluminous straw-man arguments that few people see as relevant with regards to Android being open or not.

    From the end user’s prospective Android devices are effectively closed. And, as you can see, Google could easily fix the problems by relaxing the restrictions on Google’s proprietary core apps, and using their Android branding to stop device manufacturers from locking down all their devices. Maybe use a separate brand name (Open-Android)or some such for devices that aren’t locked down. Then, let the market decide what the consumers want.

  14. Kasper Souren
    Kasper Souren at |

    re Nuna,

    I’m used to Nokia’s Maemo, which is open and free for the largest part, I really like that, but the platform never reached any significant clout of followers. I’m thinking of buying one or more Android devices but want to continue

    Is there a list of Android devices that are open enough? I.e. that will let me become root and change the kernel and tinker around.

    I quickly looked around at site:fsf.org but didn’t find anything.

  15. anon
    anon at |

    “it’s illegal to take away from another person the same freedom your government granted you.”

    Jacob, I had to go back and re-read your comment to make sure you weren’t referring to some country other than the republic (not a democracy)that is the united states of America.

    The US government does not grant freedoms! Never did. According to the founding fathers they are self evident freedoms and endowed by our/the creator (higher power than any earthly government). The US government was created by the consent of the governed. It’s powers, and even its existence are subject to its creators, We the People. The created is always subject/subordinate to the creator. Try remembering that when you go to the polls.

  16. nuna
    nuna at |

    @ Kasper Souren

    I’m hoping that Meego will be the truly open platform/devices that Google has failed at thus far. Although, as I said earlier, with some pressure from developers and customers, the branding-stick could be used to eventually open up at least some models. At the very least these devices should be unlocked by the OEM or Cell providers when their contracts are ended so that the device owners can be freed to use open, third party ROMS in their own property.

    You’ll find the most active Android ROM updates/upgrades and various root-able device models by browsing here.

    Also, more specific root-able devices and how-to forums here.

    Actually if you just enter the model number of a device you’re interested in into Google along with the word root, you’ll pretty quickly find if it’s root-able or not.

  17. Shocky
    Shocky at |


    You need to brush up on your set theory. All Free Software is Open Source Software. Not all Open Source Software is Free Software. Therefore Open Source Software is a strict superset of Free Software.

  18. jean-guy lechecul
    jean-guy lechecul at |

    I started reading the article, came to this paragraph below and just gave up since its gonna be another one of those mindless debates where some guy with a blog is gonna give us HIS definition of how many angels can sit on the head of pin.

    Id rather go to whack off at Egotastic than read someones masturbatory epic on what is or is not FLOSS.

    A lot out of the rest of the people, who are indeed informed, make the mistake of thinking that “Open Source = GPL” or “Open Source = Free Software”, which is not true. Open source is similar to free software but is one that choses to keep more options open. In short, Free Software Movement, as the one evangelized by FSF, is a subset of open source that tries to achieve freedom of software by restriction.

  19. martin
    martin at |

    Carrier locked phones are not only a US phenomenon I’m afraid to say. Here in the UK most phones are carrier locked too, unless you want to pay an extremely high price for a factory unlocked phone and put your own SIM card in it.

  20. Chris Wrinn
    Chris Wrinn at |

    Linux is only the Kernel of Android, and one technically could be allowed to use Linux for an otherwised closed-source Operating System, so long as the use of the Linux Kernel stuck true to it’s GPLv2 license. Not unlike how OS X is with their BSD kernel. Such as, you could, technically, build an OS on Linux and use your own closed-source apps and daemons (To an extent, Red Hat comes to mind).

  21. ¿Es o no es Android software libre?
    ¿Es o no es Android software libre? at |

    […] ¿Es o no es Android software libre? tech.shantanugoel.com/2010/10/25/android-open-source-or-n…  por Guevara hace 3 segundos […]

  22. Steve
    Steve at |

    Android is open core, at best. One thing you need to take a look at is the license for the SDK (http://developer.android.com/sdk/terms.html). In order to develop for Android you must use this SDK (it’s the only one available) and you must agree to this license.

    The SDK is clearly proprietary. One gem is section 3.1 where it essentially says that you may use the SDK “solely to develop applications to run on the Android platform.” However, they never define what the “Android platform” is. As a legal document this should be defined, but since this is not defined the definition can be whatever Google wants (this is intentional). What if I want to rip out Dalvik, or the kernel and replace it with my own? Is it still Android? Probably not, and Google can pull the rug out from under you at any time. Sure, you can still fork your “open source” Android into some new system, but you’ll just lose all your apps 🙂

    And there’s also section 3.3, which revokes any license you thought you had to extend, distribute or reverse engineer the SDK. I’m sure Google keeps this stranglehold on the SDK because they are deathly afraid of fragmentation (which seems to happen anyway).

  23. eMBee
    eMBee at |

    ah, yes, if you reword the allegation it will sound very different. of course android is open source (except for the parts that it keeps closed), regardless of how much private development happens before release.

    however, i hope you can make that point without claiming most projects do private development. that is a different discussion and would distract from the original question (is it open source or not).

    we can continue to discuss private vs public development here in the comments. please look at the projects i listed. all of them have their development out in the open. i’d like to ask you to point out other well known projects which do private development of major features.

    btw it does not matter if a feature in in a mainline branch, but rather, if the code, complete and incomplete, day by day, is accessible by the public or at least by anyone who asks for it.

    also, it makes a huge difference if code is published every few days or even one a week as opposed to every few months, in terms of allowing outside participation as equals (in terms of being able to follow development like someone in the project).

    further, keeping development private for legal reasons does not really apply to google, i’d think, because in some projects google does open development (see chrome/chromium) and yet other projects nothing gets published at all (picasa client, google earth).

    so it seems to me they are doing this for other reasons only.

    greetings, eMBee.

    ps: in the chromium browser the comments column of your blog has a fixed width, and while replies to comments are shifted to the left they keep that same width resulting in the rightmost edge of the text being cut off and thus making replies hard to read. maybe you can fix that.

  24. Niels
    Niels at |

    Two things:

    1. For your information, there is an open source project porting Android to the only true open phone out there, the OpenMoko Freerunner:


    2. Google does violate OSI validation rule 5 you’ve mentioned:

    5. No discrimination against any person or groups – Check

    Check out http://code.google.com/intl/nl-BE/projecthosting/terms.html section 5. Export controls:

    Users residing in countries on the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control sanction list, including Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria, may not post or access Content available through the Google Code website.

  25. Jacob
    Jacob at |

    Please don’t preach religious philosophy at me.

    A republic is a democracy. Direct-democracy is considered “true democracy” and Representative-democracies are considered “republics”. Both are forms of democracy. And in most countries murder, theft, and slavery are all illegal. In other countries somethings are legal, and other things get you simply killed.

    The founding fathers were religious, so they thought everything was simply an act of God. However, the United States of America does grant freedoms. Contrary to what you may believe, no “creator” has any control over my freewill, this goes for the persons in charge of the various governments as well.

    Evolution plays a proven role. “Freedoms” are simply the activities you evolved with that you’re allowed to do again. Monkeys do as they please, while ants live and die to feed the queen. Freedom is never an act endowed by God. In large societies, rules must be put in place, you only have the freedom to obey.

    And I never vote based on faith.

  26. android « morningtology
    android « morningtology at |

    […] Is Android Open Source or Not? Let’s settle this once and for all. (tech.shantanugoel.com) […]

  27. open source « morningtology
    open source « morningtology at |

    […] Is Android Open Source or Not? Let’s settle this once and for all. (tech.shantanugoel.com) […]

  28. Is Android Open Source or not?
    Is Android Open Source or not? at |

    […] are several discussions on the internet about this subject, one more confusing than the other: Is Android Open Source or not Is the Android truly Open Source http://source.android.com/ Quote from the last site: […]

  29. Tim
    Tim at |

    I believe it is in question whether or not Android allows a derived work on the software. A usual strong characteristic of open source software is the community that commonly develops and fixes the software. But where is that community in the Android case? Is it the OHA? But the OHA is definitely not an open consortium, since membership is only by invitation.

  30. Google nos ha traicionado
    Google nos ha traicionado at |

    […] . Les recomiendo un articulo (en ingles), que trata sobre lo "open" de Android… Is Android Open Source Or Not? | Shantanu's Technophilic Musings […]

  31. DigitalGalaxy
    DigitalGalaxy at |

    On-topic: I think nuna had it right. It’s less about Android’s source code (which is largely open-source) and more about how Google allows OEMs to lock down its phones so users can’t have basic low-level access without risking a brick. That’s not acceptable to an open-source mindset, and Google blatantly allows that to happen. They could simply tell the OEMs, “no locked bootloaders, period. We’ll take our OS elsewhere if you do.” But, they don’t. So they are not really open-source, even if the code is mostly open-source. They also do keep the Google apps closed, which is kind of half the point of smartphones. Nobody says they need to keep their apps open source, but if they keep them closed source, they kind of step back on their open-source promise.

    Way Off-topic: Jacob, you don’t seen to understand the US Constitution or Declaration very well. The entire point of the rights being self-evident is that they are endowed to all human beings period. You get the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness just by existing, the same way you get skin or eyes. No government (at that time, the king) gets to tell you if you have freedom or not. In a “state of nature”, you have these rights. When the government takes them away, doing it violates your rights. In the case of murder, your rights are being violated when you get locked up. But, the rest of society allows the government to trample on your natural rights in the name of justice, because you have broken the social contract. When you break the social contract, the government (which is simply bigger than you, not the source of your rights) impinges on your natural rights, that you still have, even if jail. Once you get let out of jail, you still have your natural rights. They were never gone. That was what made the US such a paradigm-changing experiment, but claiming the government had no authority to grant or retract rights.

    The US government does not “grant” rights. It recognizes that it will not infringe on the rights you already have (like every monarchy-based government before it had wantonly done) until you do something bad, like a crime. Quibbling about who or what the Creator is specifically is exactly what the founding fathers wanted to avoid; that’s why they left it vague.

    You also don’t seem to understand the concept of free will. If free will is merely a byproduct of chemical evolution in the brain, you have no free will in a meaningful sense. Since your brain is a biological computer, it will take in stimulus and output response. There is no free will in that. The chemical reactions, and the electrons present in your brain, are governed by deterministic laws of physics and chemistry, and the composition of your brain is dictated by your DNA, which was dictated by a process of evolution (also deterministic). Given a possible input to your brain through your senses, there is only one possible output given its current chemical and neurological state. You don’t have any room to “move” that chemical state of your brain, or the neurons in your brain. They are operating according to the laws of physics. There’s no free will for you there, no more free will than a computer has. A computer can choose between two options, but its choice was already prepared for it the moment it received the stimulus due to the status of its chips. It’s can’t change the status of those chips except by what it was programmed for. That’s not real choice.

    The only escape for real free will is to look for causes in the mind that do not operate according to physical laws. The “religious philosophy” you didn’t seem to happy about is the only place you will find something like that.
    (That or quantum physics, where probabilities are more important than determinism.)

  32. trivikram
    trivikram at |

    I want to use android code to make my own os. I don’t want to acknowledge google in any of my work. Is that possible

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