Open Is Relative

A couple of weeks ago Google announced that they were not releasing the source code for Android 3.0, code named Honeycomb. The news lead to a range of speculation about what Google was doing and whether they were having second thoughts about releasing Android as open source. Apple iPhone supporters who have often stated that Android is not truly open had their “I told you so” moment.

The majority of users, those who are not geeks, don’t know about open source, and really don’t care whether Google releases the source code for Android. What users do care about is what they can do with Android as it relates to other smartphone operating systems.

Users care that they can get apps that they want in the Android market, including alternatives to Google’s own apps. They care if the apps they want can’t be found for other smartphones but can be found for Android. Users also care about how they use their phones, and whether they can tailor their phones to their particular needs as the can do with Android.

Neither of the examples I provide above have anything to do with open source, they are forms of openness that can be provided regardless of whether a smartphone’s program code is closed or open source. My examples are forms of openness that users care about and are defined by the differences between Android and it’s competition.

As for the reasons for why Google is not releasing the Honeycomb source code, I take Andy Rubin at his word.

At the beginning of the year I speculated about whether or not Google was forking Android into smartphone and tablet versions. Right now there are in fact smartphone and tablet versions of Android. Maintaining two versions of Android would be expensive for Google, so it makes sense for them to consolidate Honeycomb and Gingerbread into a single version, as Google is presently doing.

I think releasing Honeycomb at this time would make the job of consolidating the smartphone and tablet versions that much more difficult. Frankly, looking back at Microsoft’s attempts at maintaining Windows CE, Windows CE embedded, Windows Mobile for Smartphones, and Windows Mobile for Pocket PCs, I think for its long term success Google is smart to build and maintain Android as one product.