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InfoQ Homepage News Google Has a Problem with Some Android Developers

Google Has a Problem with Some Android Developers

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Google has issued lately a cease and desist order against Steve Kondik, a well known Android developer who has created CyanogenMod, a free custom Android firmware, bundling some non open source applications like Maps, GMail, Talk, YouTube, and Market. Some see this as the first friction between Google and developers.

CyanogenMod has been installed on some 30,000 Android phones and it is appreciated by the users since it contains features not existing in the original setup. Kondik also has worked on the Android framework according to his own words:

I’ve made lots of changes myself to the AOSP code, and added in code from lots of others. Building a better Droid, right?

Nonetheless, Kondik has received a cease and desist order to stop distributing CyanogenMod as it is now. Dan Morrill, a Google Android developer, explained that Google has made Android a platform free for anyone but they kept some applications closed to be able to make a profit licensing them to their partners:

We formed the Open Handset Alliance, a group of like-minded partners, and created Android to be the platform that we all wished we had. To encourage broad adoption, we arranged for Android to be open-source. Google also created and operates Android Market as a service for developers to distribute their apps to Android users. In other words, we created Android because the industry needed an injection of openness. Today, we're thrilled to see all the enthusiasm that developers, users, and others in the mobile industry have shown toward Android.

With a high-quality open platform in hand, we then returned to our goal of making our services available on users' phones. That's why we developed Android apps for many of our services like YouTube, Gmail, Google Voice, and so on. These apps are Google's way of benefiting from Android in the same way that any other developer can, but the apps are not part of the Android platform itself. We make some of these apps available to users of any Android-powered device via Android Market, and others are pre-installed on some phones through business deals. Either way, these apps aren't open source, and that's why they aren't included in the Android source code repository. Unauthorized distribution of this software harms us just like it would any other business, even if it's done with the best of intentions.

The message was clear for Kondik: yes to Android, no to GMail, Maps and the other applications. He decided to take those applications out and instructed CyanogenMod users to backup their applications first in order to be able to restore them back after installing the new firmware:

There are lots of things we can do as end-users and modders, though, without violating anyone’s rights. Most importantly, we are entitled to back up our software. Since I don’t work with any of these closed source applications directly, what I intend to do is simply ship the next version of CyanogenMod as a “bare bones” ROM. You’ll be able to make calls, MMS, take photos, etc. In order to get our beloved Google sync and applications back, you’ll need to make a backup first. I’m working on an application that will do this for you.

The idea is that you’ll be able to Google-ify your CyanogenMod installation, with the applications and files that shipped on YOUR device already. Or, you can just use the basic ROM if you want.

Kondik added on Twitter:

Unfortunately, I feel this is a chilling effect for the entire Android community, since what we are doing is now considered illegal.

Some think Google’s action was a mistake:

Google may have the legal high-ground, but it has shot itself in the foot when it comes to developer trust. A huge part of the drive for Android was that it had fostered a large community of developer-fans - people who created brilliant mods like Cyanogen for the operating system out of pure enthusiasm. It was an open, trusting developer community. And the vast majority of the anger that has been seen since last Friday has come from that community. They feel betrayed.

Others think that Google is showing their apathy towards developers:

Google is certainly entitled to protect its legal rights and has done exactly that throughout the course of the Cyanogen controversy. The unfortunate aspect of this incident is that it further demonstrates Google's unwavering apathy towards the community of third-party developers who are working to make the company's platform better. Android had the opportunity to be the open answer to Apple's walled garden, but instead it's just a walled garden with a lower wall.

Google is a company like any other that wants to make some money. While many of their projects are open source, they will certainly want to protect their closed ones to be able to make money, otherwise they can simply pack their bags and head home.

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