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RMS: 'Is Android Really Free Software?' 433

An anonymous reader points out an article by Richard Stallman in The Guardian which questions whether Android should be described as 'free' or 'open.' Quoting: "Google has complied with the requirements of the GNU General Public License for Linux, but the Apache license on the rest of Android does not require source release. Google has said it will never publish the source code of Android 3.0 (aside from Linux), even though executables have been released to the public. Android 3.1 source code is also being withheld. Thus, Android 3, apart from Linux, is non-free software, pure and simple. ... Android is a major step towards an ethical, user-controlled, free-software portable phone, but there is a long way to go. Hackers are working on Replicant, but it's a big job to support a new phone model, and there remains the problem of the firmware. Even though the Android phones of today are considerably less bad than Apple or Windows smartphones, they cannot be said to respect your freedom."
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RMS: 'Is Android Really Free Software?'

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  • Marketing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by suso ( 153703 ) * on Monday September 19, 2011 @02:28PM (#37445952) Homepage Journal

    Marketing: The art of making something seem better than it really is. And sadly, most people fall for it, which is why they keep using that approach.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by somersault ( 912633 )

      Android is "free enough" for me. The API is open for programmers to use, and you can install what software you want. Most people don't care whether it's open source or not - just look at all the most popular OSes and devices out there. I'd prefer that they were still releasing the source, but as long as it works well and they don't try to force an Apple style walled garden, I don't mind.

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by bonch ( 38532 )

        You're right. Most people aren't ideologues and don't care whether something is open source or not, which is why the walled garden you dislike is so hugely successful compared to Android's approach, which seems to have only served as a platform for malware.

        • Erm. Have you seen Android's market share lately?
          • Re:Marketing (Score:5, Informative)

            by Karlt1 ( 231423 ) on Monday September 19, 2011 @03:02PM (#37446556)

            Erm. Have you seen Android's market share lately?

            But that hasn't equated with success in their respective app stores. The Apple app market made over 17X the revenue of the Android app store last year.


            • Re:Marketing (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Zerth ( 26112 ) on Monday September 19, 2011 @03:10PM (#37446730)

              Considering that many of the apps in the Google android store are ad-supported or just free instead of paid, I'd say store sales are a lousy way to measure success of the platform.

              • Considering that many of the apps in the Google android store are ad-supported or just free instead of paid, I'd say store sales are a lousy way to measure success of the platform.

                The Apple app store is no different. It has a great majority of ad supported and free apps. The ratio between the two is likely more or less the same.

                • Angry Birds is only available as ad supported on Android. I would have bought it outright, but they didn't even give that options for some stupid reason. Considering it's probably the best selling app ever, that doesn't seem to bode well for an even comparison.

                  I rarely look at apps anyway. Beyond the obvious ones like Skype and the occasional use of a different browser (to spoof desktop mode since the built in browser doesn't seem to do it any more), I've only downloaded a few games. I bought about 3 of the

                • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                  by pointybits ( 818856 )
                  No, 65% of Android Market apps are free or ad supported, where only 36% of Apple app store apps are free or ad supported (source Distimo report April 2011). In absolute numbers there are more free apps on the Android Market than there are in the Apple app store.
              • I'm guessing that the majority of the apps sold, as opposed to installed, are games and that those games are worth the most money.

                Mobile gamers seem to prefer iPhone to Android. They're probably right. There are probably more/better games. But is it a better platform than most Android phones? I think we may see a shift. Historically gamers have not preferred Apple.

            • Odd, as a consumer I don't see that as bad. In fact the higher the revenue in an App store the worse that market seems for me.

              But maybe I am just to used to Linux on the desktop/laptop and the cheapness of just installing what I need for free.

              I don't play simplistic games that were old fashioned on the commodore for just a few bucks (but if you count investment makes them more expensive then full price games) and the idea of having to pay a buck here and a buck there for trivial functionality that on a desk

          • by Desler ( 1608317 )

            Have you seen the fact that apple makes 2/3rds of all profits taken smartphone sales? They couldn't care less about android's market share when the android phone makers are fighting for meager scraps.

            • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

              by somersault ( 912633 )

              Wow. It's always sad to be reminded how ready people are to be ripped off for the sake of fashion.

            • Have you seen the fact that apple makes 2/3rds of all profits taken smartphone sales? They couldn't care less about android's market share when the android phone makers are fighting for meager scraps.

              I wouldn't characterize it this way at all. If you have 2/3 of the profits, you want 3/4. If you have 3/4, you want 4/5. And so on. I seriously doubt that Apple doesn't care about Android.

              • Not necessarily. Apple is generally content with the highest margin parts of the markets that it enters. If you have 10% of the sales, but 60% of the profit from a particular market, then getting 70% of the profit might mean that you'd need to double your market share, which can often be very difficult because it would involve diversifying your product line and diluting your brand. In this situation, it's often better to move into another market. This has been Apple's model for a little while, moving fr
      • While I like google products, and I'm glad that it's free-er than the competition, I think they could go further. RMS is correct, however, the fault does not like exclusively with google - it also lies with many phone manufacturers, of which only a few have been sticking to GPL and other OS's straight up encourage proprietary (apple, microsoft).

    • Re:Marketing (Score:5, Insightful)

      by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <> on Monday September 19, 2011 @02:43PM (#37446228) Journal

      More specifically, I call it "openwashing."

      Named after "greenwashing," the act of selling something as eco-friendly when it actually isn't, openwashing is the act of selling something as open when it actually isn't. Like those "open" phones that you can't get the source code for and run locked bootloaders so you can't even jai- uh, "root" the phone.

      I'm not against open phones, I want open phones. That's why I don't want anyone to accept an openwashed substitute.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Thank you for finally giving us this word. Now we finally have a succinct and compact term for Microsoft's OOXML crap.
        • For the record I don't claim to have invented it, a lot of people naturally came up with it around the same time.

          • For the record I don't claim to have invented it, a lot of people naturally came up with it around the same time.

            That never stopped the USPTO

      • Re:Marketing (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Tsingi ( 870990 ) <graham DOT rick AT gmail DOT com> on Monday September 19, 2011 @03:13PM (#37446774)
        Openwashing, good term.

        It is a sad day, Android is no longer open.

        RMS might seem idealistic and harsh, he isn't very diplomatic, but he is right. We know that the NSA has no back doors in a GNU/Linux platform because we have the source for everything. Do you know that about Windows?

        If Google doesn't release the source for Android 3.0, then you have to take what is in there on faith. Has it occurred to anyone to question why they are becoming secretive all of a sudden? Maybe because "do no evil" does not apply?

        I have a nexus one, it's open, hardware and software, (I suspect that there are proprietary things in there, but it's as open as it gets FTW) I won't be moving to another phone any time soon.

        RMS's version of free doesn't mean no cost, it refers to your freedom to do as you please with your software/hardware. You won't be able to do that with an Android 3+ device. FAIL.

        • no longer open? It was never completely open. It was simply "better than the competition". It's no less partially open than it ever was. I'm not happy about that, but who else will you go to? I notice the irony in you saying how it's a fail and uncool and all that, yet you have a nexus one.

          This has zero to do with the do no evil part and everything to do with "you should be open sourcing everything, not a part".Bolds and trolling don't help.

        • by Tim C ( 15259 )

          We know that the NSA has no back doors in a GNU/Linux platform because we have the source for everything.

          Including your hardware? Oh, and do you have a complete chain of trust on the compiler suite you use? (If you've ever used a compiler you didn't compile yourself, then you don't, as you can't be sure what that compiler did to the binaries it produced.)

          I'm being slightly facetious, but even if you personally inspect every line of source code you use, you don't know for sure that your systems are clean, you just increase your confidence level that they are.

          RMS's version of free doesn't mean no cost

          As the freedom includes the freedom to distribute

  • 3.x is errata. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Asten ( 674521 ) on Monday September 19, 2011 @02:30PM (#37445998)
    Isn't a developer free to license something however they want, within the constraints of the licenses of whatever is being used? If Google suddenly said they weren't ever publishing source again, I'd be pretty peeved, but they had reasonable, non-evil reasons for not releasing 3.x, and have committed to releasing Ice Cream Sandwich. I'd like to see 3.x released, but as long as it's a non-regular occurrence, it doesn't bother me any - but i'm not quite as idealistic as RDS - if that were possible.
    • by gutnor ( 872759 )

      You do not need "evil reasons" to keep your source closed. The fact that Google is not willing to release the source of the most current version of Android and only promise to do so with the next version shows only a lack of commitment to the open source aspect of Android. That may or may not be important, (hell loads of people are just fine with Windows and iPhone, not all of them are stupid).

      However if I invested some real time developing Android (note: != developing for Android), that would make me thi

  • Of course not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bonch ( 38532 ) on Monday September 19, 2011 @02:32PM (#37446040)

    Of course it's not. Not only is it not free in the RMS sense of the world, withholding source [] is not the openness Google always claimed it was promoting. Android exists solely to get people onto Google services for purposes of web advertising. The only reason it got so much support from techies is because it runs on Linux, and Google's PR department convinced them that it represented the usual unrealistic OSS fantasies about free ecosystems. Most users don't even care about such things. Apple is still the #1 smartphone vendor, and iOS the #1 mobile operating system counting iPads, iPhones, and iPods.

    Remember, Google's main business is a closed, proprietary product--the search engine. Web traffic is regulated by a closed product run by an advertising megacorp. They are not some benevolent cheerleader of openness. They won't even implement Do Not Track [] in Chrome because it would interfere with their ad business.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by CastrTroy ( 595695 )
      I think the reason that Google isn't releasing Android 3 source is that they don't want it installed on every crappy phone and tablet coming out of China, and giving it a bad name. Android is already known by some for being a bad product, because so many people have a bad impression, because they bought an inferior device. Not releasing the source at all was all they could do to stop it from being put on sub-standard devices. I guess the other option is to just release the source code, but not allow "And
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 )

        I think the reason that Google isn't releasing Android 3 source is that they don't want it installed on every crappy phone and tablet coming out of China, and giving it a bad name.

        This sounds a lot like the argument Apple fanboys use for not allowing other OSes on iShinies.

      • by tepples ( 727027 )
        That or they can do what AbiWord and VirtualBox used to do: the Free versions were called "AbiWord Personal" and "VirtualBox OSE". The Free version of Android would thus be called "Android AOSP" (Android Open Source Project) and the approved version "Android OHA" (Open Handset Alliance). I've already been using these names to distinguish devices with Android Market from devices without, especially when talking about the lack of an Android-powered close substitute to the iPod touch [].
        • by GlennC ( 96879 )

          I'm afraid that won't stop the problem Google is trying to address, which is cheap crap running "Android."

          Users won't care about "Free" or "Approved" versions...if they even read far enough to notice. They'll see that the cheap crappy device they're looking at runs "Android" poorly, and therefore think "Android must be crap, so I'll get an iPhone/iPad instead."

          Remember Rule #1: People are generally stupid.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Reapman ( 740286 )

      Just curious what exactly Google did to you, and why you perceive Google to be more evil then say Apple? Your always posting dozens of comments on any Google/Android article and if it wasn't for your low UID I'd write you off as another troll account. Judging by the time you invest in this on Slashdot I think you have a very personal or financial stake in this and just curious which it is.

      Do you hate Google because they're not as open as you'd like (yet still more open then Apple), or do you hate Google b

  • Don't forget Apple (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    They also release some iOS 4 source parts []. Is Android really more open/free?

    • Wow, is iOS4 more open than Android 3? Hahaha this is pretty fucked up!

    • by green1 ( 322787 )

      Can you install applications on iOS4 that are not approved by apple?
      Can you install applications on android3.0 that are not approved by google?

      Yes, Android is MORE open/free. Is it FULLY open/free? not even close, but it's ahead of iOS by a couple of fairly important items

  • The whole reason for android being closed source now is that there were five different versions of android that are/were incompatible with each other. This way google can rein in the errant OEM modifications that led to these incompatibilities.

    • by bonch ( 38532 ) on Monday September 19, 2011 @02:43PM (#37446214)

      Then Google can't keep pretending it's an "open platform."

    • by afidel ( 530433 )
      Huh? Since Motoblur, Sense, and Touchwiz are all just shells on top of the base Android OS and can all run the same applications (with small exceptions) I'm not sure what you are getting at? The biggest fragmentation comes from the fact that Google handed over the responsibility of updating the OS to the vendors and the telcos who would rather sell you another phone and/or have you renew your contract than make your existing device work better and so there are 4 major versions in common use with significant
      • by jimicus ( 737525 )

        and can all run the same applications (with small exceptions)

        My emphasis.

        I imagine Google foresaw a future those small exceptions became large exceptions. Android is already rapidly showing signs of fragmenting into a disparate platform full of products that sort-of work, all of which have minor annoyances (but you can fix them with cyanogen! Provided you don't mind voiding the warranty on that phone you're stuck with for 18 months, working or otherwise!); I could easily see it becoming an absolute nightmare.

      • Not quite, the biggest fragmentation comes from Google not forcing handset makers to allow the handsets to be unlocked by the end user without having special keys.

  • by drevange ( 2365548 ) on Monday September 19, 2011 @02:49PM (#37446316)
    You don't really get to submit to Android like you do other open source software programs. There is a NIH (not invented here) attitude. It is "open sauce". Add your favorite sauce on top of it after it is done, but that is truly about it,.
    • by yuhong ( 1378501 )

      Does not make it any less Free Software though.

    • Regardless of whether or not Android is open source, your point about "not invented here" is a mindset in a lot of open source projects. It's unfortunate, but true.

  • Google has said it will never publish the source code of Android 3.0

    As far as I know, this isn't true.
    What they said was that they were going to skip releasing the source to Honeycomb (3.0) and release the next version when it's ready.

    Due to the nature of the source control system (in Android's case that'd be Git, I guess) the release will come with the complete commit history attached, so you can recreate Honeycomb if you wish.
    They did say that they weren't sure if the Honeycomb releases would be properly tagged, though.

    • I would not bet on the git history including everything needed for 3.0. There could be legal reasons why they can't release 3.0 not just embarrasing coding mistakes. A few proprietary packages may have been used to hack Android into an OS for tablets. From a version tree standpoint you can think of it as a dead branch. Some stuff will be commited up to the root for Ice Cream Sandwitch but some stuff we will likely never see.
  • I'm very surprised The Guardian published this article as-is. A non-geek won't have a clue what most of the article means! Maybe it shows how far removed from reality RMS really is. A layman's not going to know what a binary blob or a firmware is, and they aren't explained. Very strange for mainstream news in my opinion.
  • ... can you spell it?
  • I swear I'm not trying to troll here. The argument that OSS is "innovative" has another strike against it as we see the reinvention of computing with mobile devices. Everyone who's pushing the state of the art ahead is working in private industry. Nothing groundbreaking has come from the open source world even though computing has been turned upside down in the last couple of years. The theorists would say that this is the perfect time to break old paradigms, but every open-source effort is pretty much

  • Okay, yes, as many people seem to be parroting in the comments, most people don't care whether or not their software is free (as in freedom) and open source. However, I don't really see how that's an argument for proprietary software or the behavior of companies like Apple, Microsoft, and yes, Google. (And the statement is indeed being used to make such an argument.)

    Most people don't care about much at all. They seem to care when, for example, a televised address from the President prevents them from watch
    • Caring is a product of risk. Risk is, by definition, a probability and a cost. In the case of open vs. closed software on my phone, the cost of the worst problems associated open software are approximately equal (open source malware on Android can steal my information just as easily as Google can). The probability that I'll experience any problem at all is HUGELY greater on open software (incompatibilities, slowdowns, and most commonly unintuitive, obtuse configuration).

      Overall, it means that the risk of cl

  • Android for mobile phones is still completedly free and open sourced. If you want the source, get the Gingerbread 2.3.4 source code, which is the latest version of Android for mobile phones. Honeycomb is NOT a mobile phone OS, therefore it's not valid to say that Android is not open-sourced for mobile phones.

    Android for tablets is currently not open-sourced. I have access to the Honeycomb source code and it's not hard to see why - Google has pretty much hacked in tablet support and it looks like a rush job

    • by DdJ ( 10790 )

      Even if you weren't missing the point, this wouldn't really be accurate. Even on mobile phones, there are chunks of Android that have never been free. If you want a (relatively) cheap way to see exactly what I mean, get a Nook Color and throw CM7 on there without installing the non-free components (which include Marketplace, YouTube, and the infrastructure for Google accounts). There's a bunch of stuff just missing. (The same stuff is also missing on the Nook Color's stock OS, which again, is running a

  • by jago25_98 ( 566531 ) <`moc.liamtoh' `ta' `89_52ogaj'> on Monday September 19, 2011 @09:47PM (#37451670) Homepage Journal

    Personally I feel like an idiot for falling for the PR hype and supporting Android. Now I find it was all a lie and I still don't have a secure phone. Lied to, used and cheated. You could say Apple are closed but are are at least straightforward about it.

    That said, we did get contributions back to linux didn't we? No, we didn't get much of that either.

    I get more and more in agreement with RMS as time goes on. You got to be hard with people and companies, it's the only thing they understand. It's getting better but for the meantime, extremism is what people seem to want.

    I don't want to sound angry with Google, rather I am embarrassed of myself for falling for it. Perhaps more could have been done at inception. Perhaps there's more we can do now, somehow...

Order and simplification are the first steps toward mastery of a subject -- the actual enemy is the unknown. -- Thomas Mann