Is the Android truly open source?

Yes. And no. And sort of. When it comes to the cutthroat world of mobile telephony, it's not quite that simple.

When is open source not really open source? When it's an Android phone.Linux!" and "It's more open than the iPhone!" let me say this: Yes, it is built on an open-source platform and it is, indeed, more open than the iPhone.isn't so open, nor is it too much of an alliance among Android device makers. It is about handsets, though, so there's that.

OK, before everyone jumps all over me and screams, "Android is built on

But in the cutthroat world of mobile telephony, Google may have met its match with old-school behavior from telephone service providers and handset makers who aren't so keen on the "open" part of open-source. The Open Handset Alliance

Verizon, one of the biggest cell service providers (and not a member of the Alliance, which says something in itself) is dropping the Nexus One. HTC, which is an Alliance member, isn't sharing the code for its custom Sense UI layer for Android, as would normally be expected in, you know, an open source alliance.

And why is that? Well, apparently, Google's exerting a level of control over the alliance that was described by an unnamed former executive as "oligarchical."

I just read up on the now-infamous blog post by Andreas Constantinou, research director at VisionMobile, where he says paraphrases Henry Ford, saying, "

anyone can have Android in their own colour as long as it’s black."

Point is, from a software (app) developer standpoint, the platform is open source. But that's once it's already installed on a handset. And after talking to a friend who's a sometime app developer the other day, I realize it's far easier to get an app approved for Android than for the iPhone. But from the pre-phone side of things - you know, the part where the actual Android software is developed before being loaded onto handsets - Google has a very tight hold, despite the Apache 2 license.

Leslie Grandy on pointed out Google's heavy hand in the Android platform:

Google makes most of the decisions about what they define as the base level Android platform they release. The [Android Open Source Project] site states, "The Core Technical Team reviews and approves requests for the set up of new projects, designates new projects as part of the core platform, and appoints or confirms the Project Leads for those projects."

Look, I have an iPhone. Living in the NYC metro area, I often wish I'd waited for the Droid. I'm not a developer, so as long as the phone does what I want/need it to, I'm good with it. It's become a favorite pasttime of many to dog Apple in general and the iPhone in particular and the Cult of Jobs provides plenty of fodder for that. There's even a Tumblr blog devoted to the rather perfunctory e-mails Jobs sends out to folks that I find quite amusing.

But from where I'm sitting, it's a bit lame to bash the iPhone for its closed system and laud the open source Android when, in reality, it's only kindasortamaybe open source. Sometimes. 

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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