TECHNOLOGY

Google Starts To Close Android's Open Door

03/31/2011 09:02 am ET | Updated May 31, 2011

Google is starting to shut Android's open door.

As reported by Bloomberg Businessweek, Google has begun to crack down on the way developers can use and access their "open-source" Android software.

At its inception in 2008, Android's open-source nature meant that after Google created the code, hardware and software makers could freely use and customize the result. But in recent months, Google has instated new rules that limit the way companies can use Android.

According to a "dozen executives working at key companies in the Android ecosystem" including LG, Toshiba, Samsung, and Facebook, Google is now requiring that Android users obey "non-fragmentation clauses" giving Google final approval over how companies alter the code.

Fragmentation has been an unavoidable result of Android's availability. Different devices, of different quality, all equipped with different versions of Android's software reside side by side on the shelves. For consumers, who don't all spend their days reading about each subsequent update, the variety can be dizzying. And software makers have a similarly arduous task as they must reconfigure their apps to each new iteration.

Though Google has thus far managed the problem by tying new Android premieres to specific hardware and chip makers, so that the first version rolls out gussied up to the best of Google's abilities, the company seems to want to go a step further.

Companies that follow Google's directive get earlier access to new code, letting them put out their devices before those that don't. At the same time, Google has begun to delay the public release of Android code, in a blow to smaller companies. In a market dominated by a thirst for the new, a few months is enough time to kill a device's chances of success.

Perhaps more worrying is the accusation, reported by Bloomberg Businessweek, that Google has tried to stall the release of Verizon Android devices using Microsoft's Bing. It's like inviting everyone to a party, insisting they're only allowed to drink milk and then throwing any dissenters into a time-out corner.

For a software system premised on that golden virtue--open-source--Android's turn away from its early principles has sparked considerable ire among its constituents. The headache has been bad enough that companies have been complaining to the Justice Department.

It's not as if Google's impositions are illogical from their perspective, or for that matter, wholly unanticipated. Two years ago, a writer at GigaOm noted that "it strikes me as silly to think Google won't have to play traffic cop on the Android platform."

Still, in all the iWhatever vs. Android battles that have been waged in the past year, one of Android's major distinctions has been its "openness" in contrast with Apple's famously walled garden. Perhaps just as much as "open" is an idea enabling software developers with the technical freedom to play as they please, "open" is a philosophy, a code of understanding about how technology should develop. Google's may risk corrupting the brand ideology, just as much as they risk angering developers.

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