Google Withholds Android 3.0 Honeycomb Open Source Distribution

Google sacrifices transparency to keep their Android Honeycomb PC tablet platform from the wrong hands. Is it the right move?


One of the biggest strengths of Google Android has always been its open nature. While companies like Apple and Microsoft tend to keep their proprietary software (e.g. Windows and OS X / iOS ) under lock and key, Google has made it a point of pride to keep its Google Android source codes readily accessible so that interested parties can tailor it to their individual smartphone and PC tablet needs. With this track record, it has come as a surprise to Android fans that Google has decided to put the public distribution of Google Android 3.0 Honeycomb source code on hold.

It’s an unusual move for Google, but Google engineering VP and Android head Andy Rubin insists that there is a good reason for holding back. According to Rubin, in an interview with Businessweek, Google didn’t have time to fully test Google Android 3.0 Honeycomb across all possible uses before releasing it to early adopter PC tablets like the Motorola XOOM and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Once the Android Honeycomb source code is released, says Rubin, there’s nothing to stop developers from cramming the platform on to smartphones.


This could be a problem, precisely because Google hasn’t tested Android Honeycomb on smartphones yet. While Google Android 3.0 Honeycomb is tailor-made for PC tablet use, the latest smartphones tend to run Android 2.2 Froyo or Android 2.3 Gingerbread. But when just the promise of a device running version 3.0 of a product over version 2.3 could entice less-educated consumers, manufacturers could attempt to “upgrade” their phones to Honeycomb, yielding some ugly results in the process. “We have no idea if it will even work on phones,” he notes, adding that this process could end up “creating a really bad user experience.”

Despite these reasons, the move has drawn some critics who see this as a sign of Google moving away from their open source roots toward more proprietary interests. "Everyone expects this level of complete trust from a company that's worth $185 billion," open source software executive Dave Rosenberg also told Businessweek. "To me, that is ridiculous. You have to be realistic and see that Google will do what is in [its] best interests at all times."

Indeed, it is a step away from being totally open source. But as much as Google fans and open source devotees may decry the act, is it really such a bad thing? Looking at it from Google’s standpoint – exercising some guardedness could be very smart to protecting the quality of their product, and it couldn’t come at a more important time. As tech blog Gizmodo points out, “Android is primed to become the most widely used mobile operating system, which means there's a lot of money at stake for a lot of people.” Losing a bit of transparency could be a small price to pay for controlling the quality of an operating system poised to take over the world.

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