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11 May 2011, 12:01

No Honeycomb open source till after Ice Cream Sandwich

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Android Locked up At this year's Google I/O developer conference, the company announced that there will not be an open source release of the code for Android 3.0 "Honeycomb", or the recently unveiled Android 3.1, until "Ice Cream Sandwich" is released towards the end of the year – and even then it will only exist in the revision history of "Ice Cream Sandwich". The announcement will severely limit the open source community's ability to work with Android's tablet version.

Google has previously claimed that it did not want to release the Honeycomb source because it had taken numerous shortcuts in the code which it did not want to make public. The company apparently fears that developers will port the tablet-optimised operating system onto smartphones and that this would give users a bad experience. "Ice Cream Sandwich" will work on both smartphones and tablets without modification, using intelligently resizing user interface elements.

Google's confirmation that it is not releasing the Honeycomb source code as open source has led to questioning of what Google's definition of "open" is. Google's Andy Rubin, VP of engineering, had previously defined "open" in a tweet as

mkdir android ; cd android ; repo init -u git:// ; repo sync ; make

which are the commands required to check out the source code of Android from the official repository. But in a Q&A session at Google I/O, Rubin told PC Magazine's Lance Ulanoff that Honeycomb is "open source" but drew a distinction between "open source" and "community developed" projects. "Android is light on the community driven side, somewhat heavy on the open source" said Rubin, saying that building a platform is different from building an application and that the community process doesn't work when you are creating a platform. "Community processes don't work because it's really hard to tell when it's done" according to Rubin who goes on to claim that "if it's a community process, an OEM or an operator or somebody could take an early version before those APIs are locked down, start building devices with it and those devices could be incompatible from a third-party application perspective".

Rubin's justification for not developing Android "in the open" no longer applies to Honeycomb which is already shipping in commercial devices such as Motorola's Xoom, ASUS's Eee PC Transformer and Acer's Iconica Tab A500. Users of these devices have noted many bugs and issues which, if it were open source, could be fixed by community members with an alternate firmware, similar to CyanogenMod for Android on smartphones, or corrected or improved versions of applications, similar to K9 Mail.

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