Monday, March 28, 2011

Android "Honeycomb" and Open Source

It's hard not to be disappointed that Google are, thus far, refusing to release the source code to their tablet operating system, Android "Honeycomb" (or Android 3.0.) Their reasons, as stated, seem dubious to me, but seem to reflect a wider issue that they're disappointed with many of the devices running their operating systems, and want to make sure the Android Tablets get off to a good start before opening things up.

Cyanogen, the force behind the popular CyanogenMod variant of Android, believes that Google are doing the right thing here, as long as the move is temporary, and Google's engineers certainly seem to consider releasing the source "getting it right".

There's been some comment that, given Android Honeycomb and Android Gingerbread (the latest version of the mobile phone variant of Android) were developed in parallel, the chances are the Honeycomb is Gingerbread with some temporary, not particularly attractive, modifications, with Google intending to merge the two into one operating system in the near future. This doesn't mean your Android phone will have a tablet user interface or be capable of running applications developed for tablet use only, it just means Android will return to being a single product.

This makes a lot of sense. iOS is developed similarly, and it would certainly explain Google's actions - leaving aside the fact they don't want Android associated with crazy third parties who'd release phones with user interfaces designed for tablets, there's the more practical issue that they don't want third parties customizing an operating system to work on a particular hardware configuration, when that version of the operating system is a dead end. Companies like Motorola, Samsung, and LG have the resources to deal with that situation, smaller organizations don't and would end up releasing hardware that's difficult for them to support (even if the community would support it anyway!)

At this point I guess we have to wait. Those who want supportable tablets need to hold out and see what comes out of Google in the next six months. Those who need something now need to remember that one key advantage of the Android platform, that it's open, simply doesn't apply to Honeycomb. That's not to say it's as closed as iOS, you can still run software of your choosing, you don't need the manufacturer's permission, but the future-proofing nature of open source is something that isn't going to help you.

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