Why 'open source' isn't always 'open'

Our pal Robert Werlinger from sister site PreCentral.net has been at the O'Reilly Open Source Conference this week in Portland, Ore., and sat in on the "Your Smartphone May Not Be as Open as You Think" session. And, obviously, that's been a topic of discussion in these parts, what with the whole Droid X eFuse conspiracy, and the usual general Android hacking.

And we get an interesting look at why things often are the way they are. Why despite Android's open nature, some code needs to remain secret. Why when you strip out the proprietary code, you're left without a lot of what you'd consider to be basic functionality. Anyhoo, it's a great read, so head on over and check it out. [PreCentral]

  • No matter how many 'hackers' say they won't buy XXX product because it's been locked down by the manufacture won't really effect sales. The bigger picture is that most phone sales are from your average joe. I believe the main reasons phones are locked is so that the user can't delete something and brick the phone. I really believe it's for OUR protection, even though its pretty invasive at times. I'm not too big on loading custom roms on my phone, but that's not to say I don't want to change certain aspects of it. When I rooted my incredible I removed some bloat, changed the horrible boot animation to the Droid X one... all good things to me.
  • I wish people would quit muddying the term "open source". Its as simple as the two words in the term. It means the source code for a piece of software that you are using is made available to you. It has nothing to do with whether you can load that software on particular hardware. Now maybe he can take fault with the Open Handset Alliance if their goal was to have "open handsets". But that has nothing to do with open source software. The source code to Android is open...end of story on that front.
  • exactly. it means more or less ANYBODY can download the SDK, and have access to the coding nessecary to construct their apps (or, crapps, whichever). Unlike other platforms where you have to register and pay an assload of money to become a "Blackberry Development Partner", or whatever crazy tribal dance and steve jobs oriented bj you need to do to become an iDeveloper for Apple. again, while I did flash the occasional ROM on my Droid-I'm not looking at ROMs for my Droid X. Root access will be nice, so we can Overclock-and possibly get around that extra 20-30$ for Tethering. Maybe a few tweeks here and there.
  • Steve Jobs Tribal dance? Stop making up crap, its a web-form and $99 to PUBLISH apps. The SDK/Development kit is a FREE download if you're on an OSX box. Blind allegiance to a platform makes you look stupid. And rooting is no different than jailbreaking. Android as an "open" platform is a big farce. Carriers still attempt to block tethering applications on the market, and you have to root your phone on AT&T to sideload easily. Eventually all these bootloaders will be completely encrypted and won't be able to be broken into. All the Google apps are closed source, all the customizations each manufacturer load are closed source. Just because people let you illegally download components on XDA doesn't make it "open". Android is open source in the same sense that OSX is opensource. Most of the components can be downloaded and compiled any way you want, but all the cool functionality is closed source. I carry a Captivate and an iPhone 4. They are both wonderful phones and OSes. You don't have to sound like a fool to enjoy what you have.
  • $99 is a lot higher than Android's $25, but I suppose that's not the end of the world. I do much prefer using Java to code though. Rooting is just gaining access to your whole phone. Just because you're rooted does not mean you're running a custom ROM. Jailbreaking on the other hand requires hacking the whole phone and running a custom ROM. One of the primary reasons to jailbreak that I see/hear is to get pirated apps. People don't root an Android phone for pirated apps. Carriers blocking tethering or installing non market apps doesn't make the phone less Open Source even if it is annoying. Google Apps are closed source because it was the only way Google was able to create a revenue stream off of an open source OS. My hope is one day they will open source the elements needed for basic functionality. There are other markets, mail apps, map apps, chat clients, etc...but Android should be able to make phone calls, use WiFi, GPS, etc with just an AOSP build. I was under the impression that it could...as CM releases his ROMs and Gapps separately and I'm pretty sure his ROM w/o Gapps is very functional.
  • Great article. Now somebody explain this to all of the "hackers" out there. By "hackers" I mean the fools complaining that Motorola is the new Great Satan for locking down the boot loader and killing open source. lawlz.
  • Moto did nothing to Android. It's their customers they screwed. Source code != hardware.
  • There’s a difference between the actual software and an OEM’s implementation of that software. And it all comes back to what license the software is licensed under. Android itself is open, open source, and all of that. However, a specific OEM’s version of Android that runs on their device will be locked down. The reason for this is to ensure the device works as advertised. The hacking community is completely aware that mucking with the internals means you void your warranty and potentially brick your phone. What’s being pointed out is no different than companies like Tivo or TomTom which use Linux as their base OS and then write their own UI layer on top of it. That’s essentially what OEM’s are doing with Android, they take the OS and then write their own UI on top of it, making minor modifications to the drivers to ensure the OS works with the chips they install into the phone.
  • Hey guys, check out what this chick wrote Rene at TiPb. I mean really. This is a very stupid article. She doesn't know what the word openness means! Happy Blogging! http://www.tipb.com/2010/07/23/iphone-android-smartphone-openness-lie/
  • It's rather amazing how some people can so easily confuse things like "open source" and "open platform" and apparently "God Mode". Williamson seemed to be talking about wanting a God Mode where a user could control every single conceivable aspect of a phone. Why you would ever really care about that aside from "because you could" I don't know but Williamson certainly chummed the waters for iPhone fanatics to attack Android's open software platform.
  • Open source = here is the source code. Do anything you want with it, even crappy moves like using it on hardware locked phones. If you change anything of ours, you have to give away the changes, too. Just because it appears some people needed a refresher.