The majority of consumers of the PC and mobile world have had an ongoing love-hate relationship with open source systems. Everyone loves the open ability to take charge and, for the most part, have control the device that was paid for with hard earned money. But that openness never seems to come without a pitfall...or two...or three.
When Google's Android platform hit the market in 2008, it took some time to really gain any traction. After several different manufacturers and a plethora of top notch developers realized just how promising the Android was, it skyrocketed to the top of the mobile industry. But it hasn't exactly been a walk in the park for Google. They've had some hurdles and regardless of the many they're clearing with ease right now, there are some brewing issues that are making their way from the back burner to front and center.
While problems with fragmentation and patent infringement suits are being sorted out, Google's struggle with control over its open source platform has been gaining a lot of attention. The first issue with Google doubling back on their promise of openness was with Skyhook, a competing firm that offers location-based services.
Motorola and Skyhook were planning on pairing up and instead of using Google's free, native location services, users would be prompted to use Skyhook's instead. Seeing that Android is open source, the manufacturer should have the power to do what they want with their devices, right? Wrong. When Google learned of Skyhook and Motorola's partnership, they rolled their sleeves up and were ready for a good ol' fashioned brawl.
Ted Morgan, Skyhook CEO, told NY Times, “After we announced our deal with Motorola, Google went crazy.” Morgan wen on to say, “That’s when Google went looking for compatibility compliance issues.” Shortly thereafter, Google notified Motorola that if their devices utilized Skyhook's location services that they would not longer be “Android Compatible.”
This isn't the only time that Google has stepped in and tightened the reigns on its manufacturers' and even carriers' abilities to manipulate the platform. In fact, not too long ago, Google announced that they would be dictating what alterations each manufacturer can make to the platform (i.e.: custom interfaces like Sense UI, TouchWiz, etc.).
There are obviously two sides to this argument. Open source, in a perfect world, could be an amazing thing. But this world is far from perfect and so is the ideology behind the open source process. When developers take the source code that Google provides them with and they alter it, performance and quality, for better or for worse, can change greatly.
In Google's defense, they are only trying to protect the quality of their product and the reputation they have worked so hard to create for themselves. Take, for instance, the issue with custom user interfaces. They greatly contribute to Google's woeful fragmentation issues, painfully slow updates, and quite often lag or memory issues. Monitoring these custom skins and calling the shots could save the platform and its relationship with manufacturers in the long run.
Conversely, Google putting their foot down and dictating the changes made to the platform contradicts the entire purpose of being open source. Quite honestly, I don't know many that would vote in favor of Skyhook's location-based services over using Google's free services, which in tests have proven to be just as accurate, if not more, than Skyhook's. But it's the principle of the matter.
The platform is open source, which by definition would give anyone the right to take the code and do as they see fit with it. If that means including an alternative source of location-based services, so be it. Something as minute as this really should be a non-issue. The devices that were supposed to be loaded with Skyhook's services should have been launched as originally planned and buyers should have had the option to install Google's services if they so desired.
However, this is not the case. By the way things are looking, Google's promise of a completely open platform will be short-lived at best. They've already withheld the Honeycomb source code and have made some moves that seem more closed-minded than open. How do you think Google is handling this situation? If Android wasn't completely open, would you be nearly as interested? Would you consider jumping ship to another platform?