wide open

You hear a lot of talk about rooting, especially when a new or difficult handset gets rooted.  But what many of us forget, especially those new to Android, is that rooting, and having to root phones has nothing to do with openness.  A post on the Android Developers Blog reminds us that they are pretty much the opposite of each other.  Rooting is, well we've tried to explain it several times and settled with a nice little page about the whole root deal right here.  It explains it much better that a few words here will, so it's worth a read.

The Nexus S, and the Nexus One are a bit different.  Google specified that these phones have their hardware open to the user.  With a few commands, you can set the bootloader to allow the installation of custom software -- "fastboot oem unlock".  After that, you can pick and choose what you want running on your phone.

Nick Kralevich, an Android Security engineer, sums it up nicely:

"Legitimately gaining root access to your device is a far cry from most rooting exploits. Traditional rooting attacks are typically performed by exploiting an unpatched security hole on the device. Rooting is not a feature of a device; rather, it is the active exploitation of a known security hole."

The way things are now, carriers have forced users to choose between device openness and perceived security.  We can only hope this changes one day. [Android Developer Blog]


Reader comments

Google reminds us that rooting and openness aren't always at odds


I just don't grasp the defiance carriers have against rooting. I paid 400 for this phone and I damn sure will do whatever I want with it. That's like having chevy design a car designed to only run on a special chemical only in shell gasoline. It's criminal honestly.

Their objection lies in users having access to extras without paying the additional charges for it. Mobile hotspot capability, for example.

Their business model, with regard to Android devices, is much like going to the movies. You might buy the ticket, but it doesn't entitle you to free popcorn and soft drinks. They want you to pay the premium fees for those.

I think it's more the demand for replacement devices when one of them bricks. The average consumer knows NOTHING about cellphone technology, much less cares. If carriers let all phones fast oem unlock, can you imagine the increase in tech support claims? Yes, things like wifi tethering are part of it, but the real money is lost in replacement devices.

I'll give you the free wireless tether, but aside from that, there really aren't any other paid services that rooting can circumvent, are there? They are pretty determined to keep root access away from the user for just being worried about tethering. Free tether is a great feature for many, but let's face it, rooting is about control. Users want it abd carriers don't wanna give any away.

I would call it more of going to the movies and having to pay extra for the audio. If they want to sell optional features, don't include them. If it comes with the phone, I'm going to want to use it. Why should I have to pay to use an included network card on my computer when the hardware is included? No, if it's included, it's accessible. If they don't want people using it, don't include it.

Because if the average customer (who knows very little about rooting) tries doing it to get an overclocked phone and something goes wrong.. who do you think they'll demand fix their device? That's the biggest issue. When you root, you can do things to the phone the carrier's can't anticipate and yet customers still expect them to fix it, or give them a free one. Sure, they can fall back on "Rooting voids your warranty" but with idiot websites looking for any reason to paint big business as evil, they'd have a field day with that story. There's a difference between your idea and phones, mainly that most customers sign a big contract with carriers to get the device at the fraction of the cost. That changes the dynamic considerably. If customers accepted responsibility for rooting the device, this wouldn't be an issue, but a lot don't. Customers have to change just as much as carriers before things like "Rooting" become everyday.

You can do anything you want with it! You just won't have a warranty. It's like buying a car and then putting a turbo on it then the motor blows. Should chevy give you a new motor? No!

Yes. I've suggested to a few carriers and oem's, in vein of course, that they should allow customers to "sign up" for root access, and by doing so be excluded from customer support and certain warranty issues. Id be happy to take my bootloaded key and leave Verizon's horrible customer service at the store.

regardless the nerds will think that rooting suppose to come with the phone and if you try to stop them from rooting they will cry and blush like they'll go to another phone/carrier. bottom line is rooting really wasn't meant to be in short words.

-words from a noob/been rooting for 3 months.

BS, can you imagine your computer having a locked boot loader? Unlike these phones, my motherboard is beholden to know one. I do my own installs and I do dual/multiboot. Not having access to the boot loader prevents you from installing whatever you want on the hardware, they control what you can use it for and how. F that.

Is google trying to water down the open source ideology from the inside, keep this s up and I'll have my answer?

Yes, and your BUY your computer, don't you? Or do you agree to pay comcast for 2 years to get one for free? Furthermore, if you go and fry your motherboard because you tried flashing something on it and it destroyed your hardware, do you really think that Comcast/ISP, or even Dell/HP whoever should give you a free replacement part or computer because of that? That's the difference. With phones, customers DEMAND free replacements for their devices, no matter WHAT they do to them because they signed a contract, or because they pay their bill on time, or because of a host of other reasons. As long as customer accept discounted equipment and middleman service from carriers, it's in carrier's best interest to try and lock down rooting. Not because of wifi tether (though that might be part of it) but because of the headache caused by people destroying their phones and then demanding that someone else pay to replace it.

Your argument falls on its face for me. I dont buy into the subsidized contract scheme of telco vendors and I wont(precisely because of locked hardware/vendor android instead of stock). If I want wireless bandwidth I have the option of clears 4g or 3g/4g wifi hotstop for my none locked devices(not that I have any locked devices). And thats just the best scheme I have found.

At this point I'm only interested in a wifi tablet running stock android(honeycomb) with the unfetter access the the boot loader running on google reference hardware for the best driver support. And I wouldnt pay a subsidized price from a telco vendor for it. Thats a long lasting platform, none of this bs vendor android that you have to wait for them to update "if" they do because they're control freaks and lock it down leaving you at their mercy for support.

Which is great. I don't buy contracts either. But we're the extreme minority of american consumers. Most customers want a cheap phone, and they want carrier's to fix an issue when one comes up (how many "How do I unroot my phone so I can get it exchanged" threads do you see?) Until more customers choose to go the direct route and skip contracts, there's very little reason for telecos or even hardware makers to offer easily rooted devices, because they don't see the profit in it.

That's one thing I always liked about my old Palm Pre. Palm published instructions on how to get to a root prompt right on their website. There was no such thing as rooting that device, because they left it wide open, on purpose, to the rightful owner of the device.

On the other hand, I haven't found much of a need to root my Epic. The device is great out of the box, unlike the Pre. The Pre was basically unusable without a compcache kernel, due to the Too Many Cards errors.

Actually there is such a thing as root on the pre, however you never needed it. At very first, root was used, but all patches and homebrew on the pre were implemented without the need to be a root user. That is what was so impressive about it. The main reason for root on android phones is that the system is mounted as read only, and certain things are system level, certain things are user level. The Pre's implementation, and then the WebOS Doctor being available to the public to simple restore a corrupt OS though is money!! Dont know why no one else does it. Think of how many service complaints Carriers have from people messing up their phones and then just claiming it stopped working...

Most customers don't want to go through the "Hassle" of reflashing corrupt software. They want their carrier to do it for them, or "idealy" give them a new device.

Google isn't doing anything. That would be the carriers. In the spirit of open, they have that right. Should you be able to steal services from them? Should they have to replace bricked, or otherwise f'd up phones, caused by rooting gone bad? Should you be stuck with said f'd up phone because you couldn't leave well enough alone? The only "good" rooting brings is being able to load different ROM's. The ones that don't break functionality, only give you small benefits. The rest of Rooting is cheating the system ie. Wireless Tether and AdFree. An Android phone, out of the box is more functional than any other devices...ever. But, some people are never satisfied. They think they can always demand more. The horrid sense of entitlement. Then, when something goes wrong, you don't want to take responsibility. You may have purchased the phone, but it is tied to the carrier network. They have every right to restrict how you use your phone on their network, like it or not.

I also like to remove blotware because out of memory warning bother me more when there is stuff on my phone just taking up space because my carrier wants to push a service that I don't care about out, use, or need.

It would be simple to have a restore partition like on a new Dell. Root all you want. If you screw it up, restore to factory new state. This would make everyone happy.

We are buying these phones. We don't get a choice on whether we pay the phone payment (except t-mo). So the argument of they aren't ours is silly. If I buy a computer at best buy on credit doesn't allow them to impose extra warranty conditions on me.

If you break your computer by messing around with it, you don't get a free one by warranty. If it was the same way with phones, this wouldn't be an issue. But customers expect that they get free replacement whenever they ruin their own devices when it comes to phones, which means that carriers will do everything possible to make customization difficult. Yes, you are buying the phones, but you're buying them at a subsidy. The reason you don't have a choice (pay more and get a "stock" device) is because there are too few customers who are willing to pay a premium for those additional choices. They want carriers to give them an easily rooted phone for free, and replace it, for free. This won't happen.

Also the carriers impose the only on our network BS. A CDMA phone WORKS on CDMA networks. Sprint and Verizon phones with the execption of WiMax are interchangeable... Try to get them to allow the other phone... I tried to get an Altel phone activated on my mom's Verizon line. (VZW bought ALL of Alltel here) they said that couldn't activate an Alltel phone on a verizon voice plan. They can't say it is a compatiblity issue.

They use the "cheap" phone "payment plan" as tools to get us to sign that two year contract. We pay full price for these phones. They swap them out (with refurbished units) because it is cheaper than training the local techs on how to actually diagnose and fix them.

You don't pay full price for the phones. If you're buying a smartphone, you're getting 300 off. yes, you're signing a contract, but so what? You sign contracts for tv/internet service and you don't get subsidized equipment. Running a network costs money. Sure, they're making bank on those single lines with unlimited everything. Family plans? Not too much. And the reason you get refurb replacements is because your warranty is through HTC, Motorola, etc, NOT verizon or sprint. In order for a local tech to diagnose issues and fix them they would have to be a Motorola Tech, or a HTC tech, not a carrier tech. the refurb units are a middle man because customers didn't like shipping their phone out and waiting up to four weeks to get a replacement back. Sure, Verizon could get their techs all certified, but this is really costly, and would increase their bottom line significantly, which means a much higher cost to you. Customers have spoken. They want fast and cheap, not high quality and detailed.

Quite wrong about not paying full price.

"no one eats the loss. Apple still gets paid full price and AT&T makes whatever profit they make from the 2 year contract (less the $400 owed to Apple for the cost of the phone). That is how phone subsidization works. You pay a "reduced" price up front, and then pay the rest of the cost over the 2 year contract. That is where early termination fees come into play. They were originally created so that the phone companies could recover the remaining cost of the subsidized hardware."

"Gizmodo explained this in the past. The answer is neither. GheyT&T pays the full price. They lose money till the 18th month I think. But the remaining 4 is where they make profit."

ETF's came about because you were signing contracts for service. the subsidy on phones came out after. My first phone (I was late to the game) was unsubsidized, and I still signed a contract with an ETF. The heavy subsidies on phones came to entice more people to sign up for services when cellphones were still a luxury item and not commonplace. Along the way, customers forgot that phones actually cost money, and hardware makers saw an opportunity to inflate prices since their customers would rarely see it. And you're right, the cost is made up, eventually. But using your example, it takes 18 months. Now, what do you think happens when a phone malfunctions and they get a warranty replacement? Sure, if it is a true malfunction motorola covers it, but they don't cover rooting, so even if Verizon (or anyone else) swaps out your rooted phone under warranty, it doesn't mean Motorola will honor it. So then verizon eats the cost. Say that Motorola does honor it, and then they eat the cost. For both companies, it's in their best interest to lock down the phones to reduce these claims as much as possible. Again, this would be a non issue if, like computers, if you did something stupid it was YOU who would eat the cost, but the customer environment the current subsidy model creates doesn't allow for that. If phones went full retail across the board today prices wouldn't decrease significantly. Phones are a loss leader for contracts.

This crap about removing bloatware because you are running out of space is silly. The total of all apps considered to be bloat on the Evo = 6 MB. That's hardly worth rooting to remove. Not to mention the trouble people run into installing updates after removing apps. If you are so low on space that 6 MB is pushing you over the limit, you have other issues. I have over 50 apps installed, not including preinstalled apps. Still have 178 MB of memory. That's with none stored on the SD.

All you saying they lock it down to protect loss due to customer bricking is way off bass. You got insurance on your phone right? So you drop, lose, or some douche steals it you pay your deductible and get your replacement. So your telling me if I brick a phone thanks to a bad root and take it in that tech can't tell why it's not working? What a joke. You root, you brick, you take it.

Quit buying into the excuses you are fed from the big guys it's all crap. They don't care if you ruin your phone cause you're an idiot they care about the dollar that's it.

All I really wanted to root for was wireless tehtering, or "cheating the system". Sorry, but paying an extra $30-$40 a month extra is cheating the consumer. Just my opinion.

But after being rooted for 3 weeks it got old, and I went back to stock. Stock Android, no matter what bloat you have or what you don't want, can still run circles around the iphone, blackberry, or anything else you throw at it. The only difference is that you CAN root it, that you have the ability to do whatever you want to your device, and there's a whole community out there willing to help you out.

That's not something that a lot of other phone owners can say.

Speaking of which, it would be an awesome feature to include the simple rooting process that exists on the Nexus(s) in Gingerbread whenever it's released.

I could be wrong, but try this explanation out, and see if the Developer's Blog essay makes more sense.

A) This is what I believe was meant by "rooting" your phone: "An administrator of a computer adds support for the 'su' *NIX command, as-is, his-or-her, right."

B) This is what I think that Nick meant by "root exploit" in the Developer's Blog essay: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rootkit See the "Sony BMG copy protection rootkit scandal" section for an idea of how this has been used.

My belief is that in Nick's quote the "Legitimately gaining root access to your device" is (A) and the "is a far cry from most rooting exploits" is (B).

The essay was in response to the Engadget comment.

That last paragraph mentions the carriers, but I believe that's more of an "maybe this is why Engadget doesn't get it" comment, than an, "you are all bad for getting root so that you can use 'Titanium Backup'" comment.

Hopefully Nick can clear this up, but maybe it's not as bad as it looks?