Android called closed, cunning, evil

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Research Director Andreas Constantinou from analyst firm Vision Mobile has laid out a pretty detailed explanation why Android is possible the most closed open source OS in the world, and how Google continue to control both companies and end users who use the software.

Noting the free software came with an elaborate set of control points that allows Google to bundle its own services and control the exact software and hardware make-up on every handset, they claim Android is the best example of how a company can use open source to build up interest and community participation, while running a very tight commercial model.

They have identified 8 control points:

1. Private branches. Some companies have privileged access 6 months before everyone else to new development lines, meaning the ones that toe the line get to tout the latest version of the OS, while everyone else ships devices that look old when they are brand new.

2. Speed of evolution. Related to this, Google iterates the Android platform at a speed that’s unprecedented for the mobile industry, releasing 4 major updates (1.6  to 2.1) in 18 months, causing OEMs wanting to build on Android to have no choice but to stay close to Google so as not to lose on new features/bug fixes released.

3. Closed review process. All code reviewers work for Google, meaning very few community contributions get  in and often no reason is offered on rejection.

4. Incomplete software. The public SDK lacks key building blocks missing are radio integration, international language packs, operator packs – and of course Google’s closed source apps like Market, Gmail and GTalk.

5. Gated developer community. Control of the Android Market is one of the strongest control points as no OEM would dare produce a handset that doesn’t tap into it.

6. Anti-fragmentation agreement.  OHA members have signed a commitment not to release handsets which are not Compatibility Test Suite compliant . CTS precludes OEMs from creating stripped-down versions of Android that would fit on mass-market phones

7. Private roadmap.  Currently the roadmap published publicly is a year out of date (Q1 2009) and to get a sneak peak into the private roadmap you need Google’s blessing.

8. Android trademark. Google holds the trademark to the Android name and it can only be leveraged with Google’s blessing.

In short, it’s either the Google way or the highway.

Constantinou concludes that Android is no more open – and no less closed – than Windows Mobile, Apple OSX or PalmOS, despite its Open Source veneer, and is simply a tool for Google to achieve its own ends, currently advertising but ultimately much wider, including mobile payment and voice traffic control.

Read the full thesis at VisionMobile.com here.

Is Google pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes?  Let us know your views below.