Is Android Really “Open” And Does It Really Matter?
Apple CEO Steve Jobs created quite a controversy during the company's quarterly conference call by questioning the openness of the Android operating system.
In his lengthy tirade against Android, Jobs criticized the Google model of creating a fragmented platform and noted that Apple's integrated platform was the better bet in the long run.
Jobs' arguments have met with strong opposition from Apple's rivals with Google's VP of engineering, Andy Rubin and Research in Motion Co-CEO Jim Balsillie already having responded to the claims.
Facebook's star developer Joe Hewitt, who famously walked out of his company's iPhone app development program citing his "philosophical opposition" to Apple's closed model, has now weighed in with his opinion. In a series of tweets on the issue, Hewitt has pointed out that Android is no better than iOS in terms of openness considering that the source code for projects are not made public until major releases. Hewitt writes:
How does Android get away with the “open” claim when the source isn’t public until major releases, and no one outside Google can check in?
Compare the Android “open source” model to Firefox or Linux if you want to see how disingenuous that “open” claim is.
Until Android is read/write open, it’s no different than iOS to me. Open source means sharing control with the community, not show and tell.
Hewitt has however followed up his arguments on Twitter with a post on his blog where he notes that the non-collaborative nature of Android releases is a compromise that Google may have had to make in order to make the platform more attractive to carriers. Hewitt notes:
"It's clear to me that the only reason Android has enjoyed so much success is that Google has given the carriers pretty much everything they could ask for, and the carriers have responded with the ton of marketing dollars and subsidies that Google needed in order for Android to have any shot to compete with the iPhone. While I can criticize Google for compromising Android in an effort to please the carriers, I have to admit that if they hadn't done this, Android would very likely be irrelevant today.
Having said that, much of what I said yesterday still stands. It kills me to hear the term "open" watered down so much. It bothers me that so many people's first exposure to the idea of open source is an occasional code drop, and not a vibrant community of collaborators like I discovered ten years ago with Mozilla. I am hoping that at some point it becomes practical for Google to move Android towards the Firefox model of open source, because I am sure that they want to."
David Barnard of AppCubby brings another interesting perspective to the discussion. He notes that while the concept of open-source may be correct in an ideal world, most developers would rather be interested in building applications for a platform that would help them feed their families. Barnard shares his thoughts via a series of tweets:
Google strongly warns against shipping apps with private APIs, so if you're looking to make $, you don't gain much by having source.
Though some complain about the verbosity and other aspects of Objective C, the APIs and development tools really make the platform.
I'm rambling here a bit, but the bottom line is I think most developers see through the "open" smokescreen and look at cost/benefit.
The stronger "freedom" motivation for most developers I know is the personal freedom to work on fun/interesting/personal projects.
Even on fun/personal projects done in a coder's spare time, the maturity of iOS means you can build something better in less time.
Yes. I think Apple makes a much more compelling case for going all-in on iOS. And I wonder if Android growth isn't a Verizon bubble
What are your views on this debate? Do you think the openness of Android is better for the ecosystem than the closed nature of iOS? We would love to hear your thoughts, so drop us a line in the comments.
[via Joe Hewitt Blog]
- Developer Joe Hewitt Tears Into Android’s Definition Of “Open”
- Andy Rubin On Android’s Openness: Light On Community, Heavy On Open Source
- Google’s Definition of ‘Open’
- Android Honeycomb Will Not Be Open Sourced
- Google Releases The Android Open Accessory Toolkit For Adding Devices To Tablets And Phones