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According to Wired, Some Open-Source Advocates Find Google's Android a Sinister Threat:

Some Open-Source Advocates Find Google's Android a Sinister Threat By Paul Adams Email 11.14.07 | 7:00 PM

Android, Google's new mobile software platform based on the Linux kernel, is scheduled to be released in early 2008 under an open-source license. But hope for the new platform is mingled with worries that it won't be as free and open as the initial publicity surrounding the release strenuously implies.

"I wouldn't bother with this," says Bruce Perens, a professional evangelist of open-source software. "It's so easy to find a project that is 100 percent open source right now to work on, or indeed to create one. That way, I'd be a little more sure that my work wouldn't be locked up with proprietary stuff forever."

Android's release last week was initially greeted as a breath of fresh air by those hoping to inject more freedom into the smartphone industry, which is currently saddled by various restrictions. Lockdowns on hardware functionality, demanded by service providers and enforced by the manufacturers, have resulted in a marketplace filled with crippled devices that are only minimally configurable or expandable.

However, the announcement that Android would be released under a software license which allows for some restrictions to remain in place, albeit in a more limited way, has given many pause.

The Android software platform will be licensed not under the GPL, the license that covers Linux and GNU software, but under the Apache License, which does not include the GPL's restriction on closed modifications.

According to the Android FAQ page, "The Apache license allows manufacturers and mobile operators to innovate using the platform without the requirement to contribute those innovations back to the open-source community." The page promises that "industry players can add proprietary functionality to their products based on Android without needing to contribute anything back to the platform," and, to be sure, "companies can remove functionality if they choose." ...

Here is what Google asserts about the openness of Android:

Free Software and Open Source software movements have had to deal with such apostates for years. Mainstream journalists are going to have to be much clearer about the "open-sourceness" of the Android operating system: Being modifiable is not the same thing as being truly open. The license matters. Bruce Parens is right. If Google really were trying to strike a blow for freedom, it would use some version of the GPL. Instead, it is striking a blow for better.

That's fine with me. The mobile phone world is the most locked-down and consumer-unfriendly aspect of our communication ecosystem. Ok. Maybe cable TV is worse. But as we move our Internet-type habits to our phones we are in danger (as Jonathan Zittrain reminds us) of making the Internet a lot more like cable TV.

So anything Google can do to shake up that industry in a broad and significant way is a triumph. Staying absolutely true to the ideology of open source is admirable. But I think we are beyond admiring Google for its moral stances. So we should not be disappointed that Google chose the more corporate-friendly license, the Apache.

We should, however, call Google on its inflated claims of openness.


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A book in progress by

Siva Vaidhyanathan

Siva Vaidhyanathan

This blog, the result of a collaboration between myself and the Institute for the Future of the Book, is dedicated to exploring the process of writing a critical interpretation of the actions and intentions behind the cultural behemoth that is Google, Inc. The book will answer three key questions: What does the world look like through the lens of Google?; How is Google's ubiquity affecting the production and dissemination of knowledge?; and how has the corporation altered the rules and practices that govern other companies, institutions, and states? [more]

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Like the Mind of God (22 posts)

All the World's Information (26 posts)

What If Big Ads Don't Work (10 posts)

Don't Be Evil (9 posts)

Is Google a Library? (43 posts)

Challenging Big Media (18 posts)

The Dossier (19 posts)

Global Google (3 posts)

Google Earth (3 posts)

A Public Utility? (19 posts)

About this Book (16 posts)

Other books by Siva:


Rewiring the Nation: The Place of Technology in American Studies (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007)

The Anarchist in the Library (Basic Books, 2004)

Copyrights and copywrongs cover

Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity (New York University Press, 2001)


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