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Google defines “open,” fears Android fragmentation

December 22, 2009 | by Andrew Kameka

Android OS

Google defines “open,” fears Android fragmentation

Google believes that “open systems win,” referring to the innovation that sprouts from less-restrictive open-source projects. This was the crux of their argument for why companies should flock to Android.

Of course, nothing is truly open when money comes into play, and Jonathan Rosenberg, senior vice president of Product Management, has posted a lengthy blog post – manifesto would be more accurate – on the subject of open. Rosenberg has many thoughts on open that I’ll leave you to discover, but he made two comments worth highlighting:

[Open-source projects] are competitive and far more dynamic. In an open system, a competitive advantage doesn’t derive from locking in customers, but rather from understanding the fast-moving system better than anyone else and using that knowledge to generate better, more innovative products.

This happens in Android. While the OHA has many members developing Android products, it’s clear that innovative HTC and Motorola have sprinted to the head of the pack. They created the products that most interested consumers while Samsung has struggled to deliver a phone as compelling or popular as the Droid, DEXT/CLIQ or Hero.

Ironically, this is also something that Google doesn’t want to happen. The CLIQ and Hero are popular in part because of MotoBlur and Sense, two different flavors of Android that lead to compatibility issues. Meanwhile, the Droid is snatching up market share because it’s the only phone with Eclair.

When we open source our code we use standard, open Apache 2.0 licensing, which means we don’t control the code. Others can take our open source code, modify it, close it up and ship it as their own. Android is a classic example of this, as several OEMs have already taken the code and done great things with it. There are risks to this approach, however, as the software can fragment into different branches which don’t work well together (remember how Unix for workstations devolved into various flavors — Apollo, Sun, HP, etc.). This is something we are working hard to avoid with Android.

Google doesn’t want to see Android turn into another jumbled mess of competing flavors and fragmented versions of the OS. Well, it’s a little late for that Google. When you encourage one carrier and OEM to have exclusivity of a major overhaul of the OS for months, your concerns seem hollow. When you update the system and make changes that require developers to re-do their apps in order to be compatible, you have to anticipate that this will happen.

Android is young and growing quickly. Google seems to want to push it to run while carriers prefer to walk. How has Google not put pressure on TIM to update its customers for something beyond Android 1.1.? Has Google been proactive in helping/pushing Samsung and Sprint to get the Moment on Donut? If Rosenberg & Co. want to prevent further fragmentation, they better do something pretty innovative very soon.