How Open Source is Android After all?

Google, the maker and manager of the Android platform, has claimed that Android is the world’s best open source software system. How true are these claims? A report based on a recent study by market research firm VisionMobile about several popular open source projects.

how open source is android?

How Open is Android?
A recent report published by market research firm, VisionMobile has shown that Google’s Android mobile operating system ranked the lowest out of all eight major open source software projects in terms of openness. The software systems evaluated in the project included:
  • Android - 23% 
  • Eclipse - 84% 
  • Linux - 71% 
  • MeeGo - 61% 
  • Firefox - 65% 
  • Qt - 58% 
  • Symbian - 58% 
  • WebKit - 68% 
The highest ranking open source software project was Eclipse, which scored 84 percent. Google’s Android OS was the only open source project that had a score below 50 percent, coming in at a low 23 percent. This seems to show that Android’s open source claims aren’t making it with users and developers alike. 

So, What’s Android’s Definition of Open Source? 
For Google and Android, open source basically means you can download and compile the code, and this makes it open source. However, Android developers can download code and do what they want with it, but they can’t see updates immediately like Firefox changes. They have to wait until Google gives them the updates they need. As far as openness, transparency, and community, they don’t exist with Android. Google still rules the roost.

Is There a Better Open Source Definition? 
According to the software industry, the term open source has three core principles. These are: 
  • A license that insures the code can be modified, reused and distributed 
  • A community development approach. 
  • Assurance the user has total freedom over the device and software 
Android has maintained their open source stature in totally legal ways. You can download the code, use it, and redistribute it. However, the community development atmosphere and total freedom to control devices that utilize the software platform are very lacking. 

The Big Monsters - Phone Providers 
The big monsters in the closet that may be helping to keep Android from becoming more open source are the phone providers. Keep in mind, that most gadgets that utilize the Android platform are cell phone and smartphone devices. Google’s allows the phone carriers to create a closed model with the Android platform. The carrier’s excuse is that open phones with truly open source code could threaten the phone network. Whether this is true or not is very debatable. Some consider the locks put on android software by the phone carriers to be just as controlling and severe as the iOS operating system. 

Ways Around the Control - Open Backdoor Approach
Of course, Android users and developers have found ways around carrier controls on Android devices. So, there are ‘root hacks’ that gives users more control and make their Android environment more truly open source. Another advantage of the Android community is that it is far less controlled by Google when compared to Apple's stronghold over iOS platform. There is definitely more freedom for Android users.

Open is All in the Approach
So, when it comes to whether Android is an open source software platform or not, it depends on what your definition of open source software really is and who’s controlling the party. One thing to keep in mind, it hasn’t stopped consumers from consuming Android based devices at all. Android OS has become one of the most popular software platforms for smartphones in the world and continues its exponential growth even today. Google now activates nearly 600,000 Android devices every single day and Android platform recently surpassed iPhone's iOS to become the second biggest smartphone platform in US.

Article Contributed by Lisa. About the author: Lisa is an avid yoga enthusiast who enjoys writing in her spare time for US Direct.