Android 4.0 developers will get their source code dessert

Ice Cream Sandwich source code to be released

Call it delayed gratification, but it looks like developers will be able to get their hands on Android 4.0 source code (code-named "Ice Cream Sandwich") after all. Just not right away.

Those of us who were seeking some ICS source code following the Tuesday announcement of Android 4.0 and the first ICS phone, Samsung's Galaxy Nexus, were initially disappointed that there wasn't at least some word about whether Google would be opening up the ICS source.

And while there's been no official announcement yet, Android engineer Dan Morrill revealed new information in the Android Building Google group yesterday evening that points to an impending release of the ICS source code.

"We plan to release the source for the recently-announced Ice Cream Sandwich soon, once it's available on devices," Morrill wrote.

This news is a welcome relief, after an earlier Slashdot post has pointed out an Oct. 18 message in the same Android Building group from Android engineer Jean-Baptiste Queru that Slashdot contributors interpreted to mean just the opposite--that Google would not be releasing ICS source code.

In the earlier thread on the Google group, Queru declined to comment on the release of the Android 4.0 source code, which several people took to be a denial that the source code was coming out at all.

This was, unfortunately, not that hard of a conclusion to make. Google has established a precedence for holding Android source code close, despite its Apache Software License (ASL v2).

In March of this year, Andy Rubin, vice-president for engineering at Google and head of the Android group, explained that because of the many new tablet-oriented features within Android 3.0 ("Honeycomb"), Google's engineers were worried that the code would be ill-suited for non-tablet devices, like phones. If the code were open sourced this Spring, Rubin said in an interview with BusinessWeek, Google "couldn't prevent developers from putting the software on phones 'and creating a really bad user experience. We have no idea if it will even work on phones.'"

Later in the Spring, Google made "indefinitely" practically forever, announcing at their annual developer's conference that the Honeycomb source code would be not be released until after the release of the ICS source code. Again, Rubin emphasized that because of the half-baked nature of Honeycomb, Google didn't want to put the Android 3.0 source code out there.

This decision brought out a lot of derision from Android fans and foes alike. The fans were upset that suddenly Android was becoming a proprietary platform. Foes used the opportunity to declare Android was in violation of open source licenses, until it was explained to them that since the ASL is not a copyleft license, Google is not required to provide access to the Android source code, except for the elements (such as the Android kernel) which are licensed under the GNU Public License (GPL).

(Of course, that didn't stop some Android critics from then accusing Google of GPL non-compliance, which had to be explained to them on more than one occasion that this was a non issue.)

Still, even though the ASL legally permits Google to keep the Android source code to itself, it was a tough pill to swallow, and many in the open source community were ticked off at Google's decision.

Queru's non-comments on Oct. 18 apparently exacerbated the hurt feelings, since people were now expecting the worst from Google. I will be honest and say I had doubts about the source code status of Android as well.

Morrill's mention of the opening of ICS has dispelled some of those doubts. The reiteration of Google's plan to release the Android 4.0 was almost an aside in his broader housekeeping message that the source code Android 2.3 ("Gingerbread") was now available again.

The Gingerbread code had been unavailable due to a planned move of the source code from's git servers to Google's own git infrastructure. The move was seriously delayed by the recent attacks on, which left the entire infrastructure down, and prevented Google from completing the move.

Morrill's message, announcing the availability of the Gingerbread source code on Google's new git infrastructure, also laid out future developments for the Android Open Source Project, including bringing up the Gerrit Code Review and gitweb tools, now that the primary source code mirrors are in place.

There was no detailed timeframe on when ICS source code would be made available, too; Morrill's message only indicated that the code would come out once ICS was "available on devices." It is not clear which devices he means.

So, the timing of the Android 4.0 source code release is still an open question. But the answer for whether that source code will see the light of open source day appears to have been answered: developers will eventually have their Android dessert.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog 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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