August 17, 2011, 11:49 AM — The news came too soon not to have already been in the works before Google admitted having bought Motorola, but the timing of a Facebook post revealing Samsung had hired the programmer responsible for the most popular unsanctioned Android unlocker and modification kit on the market does look suspicious.
Android is open source, so both vendors and end users can, in theory add their own modifications. Most handsets are locked down to prevent changes the carriers don't like. Carriers, phone manufacturers and Google's own Android-development team publicly deplore and sometimes cut off service to users who take root access to their devices, replace portions of the OS that keep them from making other changes, and then add features that would be either expensive or unavailable from their service providers otherwise.
Steve Kondik, whom Samsung announced this week it had hired, is the most successful of those modders.
Kondik founded and continues to head Cyanogen Mod, a software developer that makes firmware that replaces the pre-installed version of Android with a modified one that includes capabilities such as a VPN, USB tethering (even against the carrier's wishes), extended support for streaming and local media, enhancements to onboard cameras, incognito browsing and other features not offered in most Android versions.
It's not clear what he'll be doing at Samsung, though he told Android-centric blog AndroidAndMe that "I
will be working on making Android more awesome."
Samsung Mobile is obviously happy with the possibility of Awesomeizing Android, but Google may not be.
In 2009, when Cyanogen had only 30,000 users, Google lawyers wrote Kondik to say CyanoGen was an unauthorized version of the OS and to demand he stop distributing it.
The blowback from CyanogenMod fans was so great Google eventually had to clarify that its objection was that Cyanogen included "closed" proprietary apps, not the open-source portion of the OS.
Cyanogen was not dead. The current version runs on more than 40 Android devices and has been installed more than 500,000 times.