Why Android is not so open source

While Android may be trumpeted as the open source product of the future, it seems Google may be sending mixed messages. For years, Google has touted its open source Android mobile operating system as the best alternative to the indomitable Apple iOS. Apple has kept its iOS operating system locked to its own iPhones and iPads since its inception. This model of sales was previously implemented by Apple, Apple used this method to sell its OS X operating system. Android touts that it can work an any device, and that anybody can change its open source code.


Android invites companies to join the Open Handset Alliance (OHA). Part of their mission is to create uniform standards that can be used to make mobile devices more standardized. This may sound a little strange for a company touting its open standards, and it is. Members of the OHA are contractually obligated to not produce devices that are based on an incompatible fork of Android. What you say? That doesn’t sound like a company touting and open source product, you say. Yeah, this author would have to agree with you.


One alternative to Android in the mobile world is Ubuntu. Ubuntu is an open source operating system that is designed to work on PCs and mobile devices. Unlike Android, Ubuntu is truly committed to the values of open source software. Anyone can fork off of the main repository, and use it any way they like. Ubuntu lists the tenets of open source software:


  1. Software must be free to redistribute.
  2. The program must include source code.
  3. The license must allow people to experiment with and redistribute modifications.
  4. Users have a right to know who is responsible for the software they are using.
  5. There should be no discrimination against any person or group.
  6. The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field.
  7. No one should need to acquire an additional license to use or redistribute the program.
  8. The license must not be specific to a product.
  9. The license must not restrict other software.
  10. The license must be technology-neutral.


Android obviously does not follow several of these rules. So can Android really call itself open source? I do not believe so, and I think Google may not think so either, but they are not about to stop waving the open source banner any time soon.