Can Android be made truly free and open source?

In today's open source roundup: Ars Technica tries to create a truly free and open source version of Android. Plus: Why open source mobile efforts have failed, and Minimal Linux Live has been released

Android has taken the world by storm, but many open source advocates view Google's mobile operating system with a dubious eye. Can Android ever be made to be a truly free and open source operating system? Or is too tied to Google's products and services? Ars Technica took a stab at creating a FOSS version of Android.

According to Ars Technica:

Android is a Google product—it's designed and built from the ground up to integrate with Google services and be a cloud-powered OS. A lot of Android is open source, though, and there's nothing that says you have to use it the way that Google would prefer. With some work, it’s possible to turn a modern Android smartphone into a Google-less, completely open device—so we wanted to try just that.

Completely open Android is possible, but it feels like a constant uphill climb. It's harder and sometimes impossible to find open source solutions for many tasks. Even if you do find something, it will probably be uglier and less capable than the latest stuff out of Google HQ. But if you're willing to deal with a few headaches and slog through the sparse app selection, you'll have a better handle on your privacy and be able to brag that you have a (mostly) open source phone.

More at Ars Technica
All FOSS Android
Image credit: Ars Technica

This is one of the more interesting Android articles I've run across lately, and I think it qualifies as being a truly noble experiment. Alas, the last paragraph of the article seems to indicate that a truly FOSS version of Android is a pretty tough thing to achieve.

I think it underscores the dangers of having a large company like Google being the force behind Android. If you don't really care about FOSS then Google owning Android isn't a problem at all. But if you want your mobile operating system to be FOSS-only then it becomes a real challenge to chop off all of Google's tentacles.

Perhaps the best thing that can come from this article is a realization that we need viable FOSS alternatives to Android for the folks who want them. Being dependent on Google (or Apple or any other large company) brings with it a certain set of chains, and those chains are very hard to break if you want a mobile operating system that is truly free and open source.

The failure of open source mobile operating systems

On the other hand, InfoWorld has a pretty negative take on open source mobile alternatives to Android.

According to Infoworld:

Open source mobile efforts have a history of failure: Moblin, Maemo, MeeGo, and Tizen are all examples that have been shepherded into oblivion by the Linux Foundation and an assembly of vendors. Canonical's Ubuntu Touch, Mozilla's Firefox OS, and Jolla's Sailfish (derived from MeeGo) all seem to be following similar trajectories to nowhere.

All of these issues -- a hobbyist mentality, a back-pocket strategy, and a low-capability focus -- explain why open source mobile OSes have gone nowhere. Sure, there've been plenty of failures in the proprietary world -- Nokia's Asha and Symbian OSes are now dead, as are Palm's Palm OS and WebOS (outside of LG entertainment devices), and BlackBerry and Windows Phone continue to struggle. But there's also been the amazing success of Android and iOS, as well as a continued, determined effort to make Windows Phone succeed.

More at InfoWorld
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