Last week I discussed the ‘walled garden’ nature of Apples popular iOS mobile operating system and the restrictions that came with it. But what if I told you there was a way out, an alternative called Android. This alternative boasts source code that’s open to all allowing developers and enthusiasts to develop new features and customize to their heart’s content. This alternative sounds great but is it open source savior we need?
Google was terrified that Apple would end up ruling the mobile space. So, to help in the fight against the iPhone at a time when Google had no mobile foothold whatsoever, Android was launched as an open source project. – Google’s iron grip on Android
Android began in 2003 originally aiming to create an advanced operating system for digital cameras. They quickly realized that the market wasn’t big enough and changed their focus to creating a smartphone operating system. In 2005 they were acquired by Google and continued to develop the OS shrouded in secrecy until 2007 when the Open Handset Alliance a group of technology and mobile companies dedicated to creating open standards for mobile devices unveiled itself and announced its first product Android.
While reviews were skeptical at first Android has become the most widely used smartphone operating system with around an 80% market share worldwide. Reviews now tout the open aspect as one of the top-selling points for devices running android and hardware developers such as Amazon and release hardware (Kindle) running their own customized version of Android but problems have arisen. People have questioned if Android is truly open source with the majority finding that in the legal definition of ‘open source’ it is but it is not transparent and the consumer cannot do whatever they want with it.
Once the code is released, Android developers can download it and do what they want with it, but they have no way of seeing what’s happening behind the scenes every day. If you want to know how Firefox changed last night — however esoteric those changes may be — you can study the changes on the Mozilla site. The same is true of the Linux kernel, Open Office and nearly every other open source project with a website. – Is Android open?
Android is not the savior that most open source enthusiasts will tout it as but it is more ‘open’ than iOS. It has shown that an OS based on the concept of being ‘open’ can be successful which in turn will hopefully pave the way for a truly open source platform in the future.