Google Android Is Open Source: LinuxCon

Google's top-open source exec explains at the  LinuxCon conference why Android is open source and why open source is a key part of Android's success.

NEW ORLEANS—Google Director of Open Source Chris DiBona took the keynote stage at the LinuxCon conference here on Sept. 16 with a key message: Android is open source.

DiBona plays a key role at Google in helping to make sure that his company does right by the open-source community and is compliant with open-source licensing requirements. During his keynote, DiBona explained that from the very beginning of Android's strategic development back in 2005, a core underpinning of the platform has been about being open.

The challenge for Google in 2005 was that it was difficult to get its search engine onto phones. At the time, the handset market was a closed system and Google had to go through a carrier-by-carrier process to get on phones. Android in part was an effort by Google simply to make sure that its search engine could be easily deployed on any phone.

"We wanted people to have the same experience on their phone as they did on the desktop, but no options were available in open source," DiBona said.

With Android, Google wanted to provide a new minimum level of capabilities that users should expect from a phone, DiBona said. What Google didn't want was to have to continuously cut deals with carriers in order for Google search—or, for that matter, any given Website—to run on any phone.

"Cell phone operators can't compete by restrictions anymore; there has to be a level of freedom," DiBona said.

Android has been a tremendously successful effort for Google that gets better every year, according to DiBona. Currently, 1.3 million Android devices are activated daily, he noted.


While Android leverages Linux as part of its platform, Android has had some issues with Linux in the past. In 2010, the Google Android code was dropped from the mainline Linux kernel.

It was not until March of 2012 with the Linux 3.3 kernel release that Android finally returned to the mainline Linux kernel. DiBona commented that he always thought that it was a good idea for Linux and Android to be together. The dispute was a deeply technical one and dealt with wake locks, a power-saving mechanism.

Linux dispute aside, DiBona said that while some have questioned whether or not Android really is open source, there is a surefire way to prove that it is. Android can be shipped by anyone and included in any product, without Google's involvement or even permission. That fact is enabled by the permissive open-source license under which Google makes Android available.

In the final analysis, DiBona stressed that open source is what makes Android work for Google, and it's a powerful concept that is at the core of Android.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.