Google Irks Android Developers with Cyanogen Move

Google has created uproar among Android developers by calling out a so-called "modder" for creating a firmware modification known as CyanogenMod that bundles some of Google's proprietary applications. At issue is Google's commitment to openness and developer perception of how well the company is managing that commitment.

Google has created uproar among Android developers by calling out a so-called "modder" for creating a firmware modification known as CyanogenMod that bundles some of Google's proprietary applications.

According to reports, Google has slapped a cease-and-desist order against the developer. "Google has reportedly filed a cease-and-desist order against one of the Android platform's most prolific developers," said a GigaOm report. "The developer, Steve Kondik, who's known as Cyanogen, offers a free, after-market firmware product that bundles closed-source Google apps such as Gmail, Market, Talk and YouTube. CyanogenMod, as the app is dubbed, claims 30,000 users, many of whom appear to be hardcore Android fans."

In a blog post regarding the situation, Steve Schultze, associate director of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University, said:

""Android represents a careful balance on the part of Google, in which the company seeks to foster open platforms but maintain control over its proprietary (but free) services. Google has stated as much, in response to the current debate. Android is an exciting alternative to the largely closed-source model that has dominated the mobile market to date. Google closely integrated their Apps with the operating system in a way that makes for a tremendously useful platform, but in doing so hampered the ability of third-party developers to fully contribute to the system. Perhaps the problem is simply that they did not choose the right location to draw the line between open vs. closed source-or free-to-distribute vs. not.""

In response to the uproar from developers, Dan Morrill, a Google engineer working in the developer relations team for Android, said, "Recently there's been some discussion about an exchange we had with the developer of one of those builds, and I've noticed some confusion around what is and isn't part of Android's open source code. I want to take a few moments to clear up some of those misconceptions, and explain how Google's apps for Android fit in."

Added Morrill:

""With a high-quality open platform in hand, we then returned to our goal of making our services available on users' phones. That's why we developed Android apps for many of our services like YouTube, Gmail, Google Voice, and so on. These apps are Google's way of benefiting from Android in the same way that any other developer can, but the apps are not part of the Android platform itself. We make some of these apps available to users of any Android-powered device via Android Market, and others are pre-installed on some phones through business deals. Either way, these apps aren't open source, and that's why they aren't included in the Android source code repository. Unauthorized distribution of this software harms us just like it would any other business, even if it's done with the best of intentions.""

However, Google's response has done little to quell developer reaction.

In a message on a mailing list for New York Android Software Developers, a developer identified as Chris Stratton said, "To me, this really highlights a question that has been worrying me ever since getting involved in Android: Is Android open source for end users, or only for OEM phone manufacturers who hold the bootloader keys and can negotiate the licenses for the proprietary parts needed to give it full function?"

Added Stratton:

""This is very worrisome, because it's the exact opposite of the Stallman-esque 'right to repair' behind Android's GPL Linux kernel. It may well ultimately prove possible to create some kind of tool for in-phone combination of a customized platform built from open sources with the proprietary binaries already on the phone, but the effective message that 'only OEMs should expect to retain full functionality when changing the platform' seems to suggest that it is only the theoretical Android, and not the practical one, which is actually open source.""

Another poster to the New York Android Software Developers list, identified as "Hong," said: "I'm very disappointed at how Google handled CyanogenMod. There are many users [who] got an Android phone just because of CM ROM who would otherwise go for some other phones. Google has effectively told the ROM community that it's illegal to distribute Google apps in Android ROM. But an Android ROM w/o Gmail/Google account settings is basically unusable."

Moreover, said Hong, "I'm putting some Android work on hold and resuming back to my old iPhone dev self, and will also resume my [Palm] Pre webOS projects."

Speaking of the iPhone, Palm and the webOS, in a Phandroid post titled "Eff Google, Screw Android: The Backlash Begins," Jean Baptiste Queru, a Google engineer working on Android is cited for tweeting his disdain for Google's handling of the situation. The Phandroid post reads:

""This is bad. Really bad. So bad that one of the lead Android developers themselves are insinuating this is worth walking away from the platform. Jean-Baptiste Queru has just tweeted, 'To my Apple, Microsoft and Palm buddies: are you hiring to work on mobile stuff?'""

In addition, a commenter identified as "Bob" responding to Schultze's blog post said:

""Finally the world is waking up to Google and its 'open-source' strategy. The company is a serial abuser of the entire notion of 'open'-cynically wielding it as a weapon in business."The company has never *joined* an open-source project. It just starts them-ensuring that by the strength of the number or coders it has, it keeps control over the projects. It does this even when there are well-established projects already, screwing over other communities in the process-Mozilla vs. Chrome, Android or ChromeOS vs. MobLin or LiMo."Bottom line-Google uses the 'open' concept cynically. It makes things open when it suits its interests (and always retains control) and it locks down otherwise."And the simpering community rolls over and takes it because it's the darling 'do no evil' Google.""