Pay no attention to the sponsor behind the curtain

Report ranking Android, MeeGo openness low sponsored by potential competitor

A recent market analyst report ranked Google's Android project as the least open project on its self-describe Open Governance Index, but did the report's sponsors get direct benefit from the findings that knocked Android down a peg or two?

Last week, VisionMobile, a UK-based firm that researches and analyzes the mobile technology sector, released the report "Open Governance Index--Measuring the true openness of open source projects from Android to Webkit." The 45-page report delved into the background of free and open source software and laid out a ranking based on this Open Governance Index, which VisionMobile described as being based on these factors:

  1. "Access: availability of the latest source code, developer support mechanisms, public roadmap, and transparency of decision-making
  2. "Development: the ability of developers to influence the content and direction of the project
  3. "Derivatives: the ability for developers to create and distribute derivatives of the source code in the form of spinoff projects, handsets or applications
  4. "Community: a community structure that does not discriminate between developers"

Based on those criteria, Android ranked the lowest among eight examined free and open source software projects, which included notables such as Eclipse, Mozilla, and Linux. Android's index score of 23 percent was manna from heaven for Android detractors, since it validated the negative impact of Google's decision to selectively release Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) source code to a few major manufacturers and not to the general development community. That the report was widely touted in the press as being sponsored by the European Union was just icing on the cake.

But let's take a look at that icing and the cake underneath.

The report itself, according to the frontmatter material (which is fancy publishing talk for all the copyright, table of contents, and other business stuff that appears in the beginning of most printed works), was actually "partially funded by webinos, an EU-funded project under the EU FP7 ICT Programme (#257103)." The take-away here is that it's webinos that's EU-funded, not the report itself. (At least, not directly.)

So who is this webinos? Besides having an apparent aversion to uppercase letters, webinos "is is an EU-funded project and affiliate program aiming to define and deliver an Open Source Platform and software components for the Future Internet in the form of web runtime extensions, to enable web applications and services to be used and shared consistently and securely over a broad spectrum of converged and connected devices, including mobile, PC, home media (TV) and in-car units," according to the consortium's web site.

Looking at that description, the very first thing that comes to my mind is "wouldn't this compete with Android?"

One has to wonder, especially when you look at the site's FAQ page, which lays out what webinos has in mind: an open-standards, open-source software platform for a whole bunch of mobile and embedded devices, scheduled to be delivered in March 2012.

Right now, 22 companies are involved with the webinos project, VisionMobile Ltd. among them, as well as the W3C, Oxford University, and Samsung Electronics, to name a few of the wider-known members. If you're hoping for a smoking gun here, with an Android-hating company like Apple, Microsoft, or Nokia involved, you'll be disappointed. It was interesting to see Samsung and Sony Ericsson as members of webinos, given their sales of Android-based devices, but who cam blame companies for exploring new avenues?

VisionMobile's membership in the webinos consortium might make one blink a bit, but to be fair, it's stated right up there in the frontmatter of the report.

But given that the open source platform webinos intends to release sometime next year would be a direct competitor with Android and MeeGo (which is ranked number five at just 61 percent openness), it's interesting that these two projects would rank low--especially given the very strong emphasis webinos is putting on its own open source credentials.

If I were a cynical man, I would take a look at this ranking and wonder if the product that webinos is planning to deliver will be based on Linux and rely on a WebKit browser interface, since those projects ranked higher than the others. Of course, that logic would also mean webinos would use Eclipse tools for development, since it ranked number one at 84 percent.

I am not quite that cynical. But I think it's fair that everyone ranked in this report knows that the organizations doing the ranking (webinos and VisionMobile as a member of webinos) have the potential for competing with at least two of the projects highlighted in report. More, really, depending on what browser technology webinos ends up going with.

Let's be clear: I would be the last one to hold up Android as a bastion of openness. But fair is fair. It's important to understand the source and their motivations to put reports like this one in a better context.

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