Why Android will never be closed source

Android business model ain't broke, why fix it?

The oddest thing about HP CEO's assertion that a Google-Motorola deal will eventually lead the the closing of Android's source code is not that she made the assertion, but that Whitman and her staff are actually trotting out this old chestnut again.

Seriously, what was that? Because while many people have made the claim that Google is one evil step away from closing Android, there is no evidence to suggest that they are planning to do that, nor ever will.

Actually, I do know what it was… anyone who has ever paid attention to corporate marketing and political electioneering will recognize the tactic immediately: toot your own horn while simultaneously slapping down your opponent.

In the context of HP announcing the new governance model for webOS, based on the Apache Way, Whitman's comments make a lot of tactical sense. After all, Google's Android OS is also licensed under the Apache Software License (the kernel being licensed under the GPL), so HP needed some sort of differentiator for webOS. Thus, the accusations of the impending closure of the Android OS code.

HP doesn't get points on originality, because this is a song we have all heard before. Ad nauseum. When the move to acquire Motorola Mobility (MMI) was first announced, this meme skyrocketed in the tech blogosphere, with existing Android vendors taking great pains to express their displeasure at a Motorola-Google exclusivity for Android.

But Google has made it abundantly clear that the decision to pick up MMI was a move to boost it's own anemic patent portfolio, which it needs to fend off the proxy patent attacks against Android vendors and direct assaults such as the Oracle lawsuit over Java in Android.

"Our acquisition of Motorola will increase competition by strengthening Google's patent portfolio, which will enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies," CEO Larry Page wrote on Google's official blog last August.

Ah, HP and others will counter, that's just the official line.

Okay, I'll bite: it's possible that Google has other motives in mind behind the MMI acquisition. After all, business is all about making moves that will outfox your competition. But even with that in mind, could someone give me one real business reason why closing the source of Android would be anything less than insane?


Businesses like Google (and Facebook and Yahoo and any other content-driven venture) have built empires on one really simple idea: let others do as much work as they can. For Google, every search result correction, every contribution to Google Plus, and every tweak on Google services is a way to improve their product line with minimal impact on their bottom line. Opening and giving away Android to any device vendor who wants to use the mobile operating system is just an extension of that strategy.

Give away Android, Google has reasoned, and you reap the benefits of multiple hardware and carrier vendors marketing and enhancing the platform for Google, not to mention the benefits of so many developers contributing positive code developments. Under the current arrangement, Android devices are blanketing the market, swamping the number of competing platforms.

Closing Android to go exclusively with one vendor would run completely counter to that success story, and suddenly put the much more of the burden of developing, marketing, and controlling Android right back on Google. Remember, at the end of the day, Google is about revenue through advertising and data--why would it suddenly want to become a mobile operating system vendor? Because, whether you think so or not, that is not what Google wants to be.

HP has to project that it will be more open than Android, because the decision to open source webOS is predicated on what Google already knew: creating your own mobile platform is a very hard thing to do, and the more help you get from partners, the better.

Will webOS be able to pull this off? Perhaps. And a case could very likely be made about the relative openness of webOS versus Android, because this is an area that Google could improve upon when it comes to Android.

But such a case should at least be grounded in a little reality, don't you think?

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Zettatag and Open for Discussion blogs and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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