Android, as we all know is a Linux based mobile operating system. Now, Linux kernel and its components are free and open source software. So we can argue that Android is open source, but is it, really? Let’s discuss it here.
Android, over the years, has grown, become the most popular mobile operating system and seen a wide adoption. We heard of Android being the best among its peers because of its ability to be customized at will. But this point is partly true. The bigger point is what manufacturers and OEMs have done to OS. Now, any Android device which you buy is running a fair amount of closed source code.
The result of this is those who want pure open-source operating system are moving towards Ubuntu Touch, Sailfish OS, and Firefox OS. But, they are forced to stick with Android because the other 3 have been disappointments and Android, is still the one, which uses Linux to the best.
So, the question which remains “Is Android an Open-Source OS”?
Android came to light as an open source project. When Google bought Android, it formed an “Open Handset Alliance” with other companies as a commitment to openness and to offer consumers a richer, less expensive and better mobile experience. Android was a part of this project.
Android, is based on Linux and most parts of its complex piece of code is open source with a few binary blobs included so that it works with certain hardware. There is a core Android Platform, named Android Open Source Project (AOSP) using which one can develop any software they wish for without paying any kind of fee.
Most of the OEMs like HTC, Samsung, Xiaomi, LG, and Huawei have done this for their respective devices. Amazon did this on e-readers. NVIDIA used Android for a game console. Sony used it on their smart TV. HP bought Android on a laptop. There are Smart Watches being shipped with Android OS. Even cameras and refrigerators aren’t behind either. And, these companies have done this without paying a penny to Google.
People are free to use the source code, experiment, develop and design whatever they like. And that’s why Android is thriving over iPhone and Windows phone.
But, you may argue that if Android is such awesome open-source operating system then why we are even having this discussion.
The reason is, we people, don’t give Android, freedom be an open source OS. You may say what am I talking? Well, let me explain this in below 3 points:
Android isn’t Developed by a Community
In a simple line, Google develops Android. The core development of Android isn’t driven by the community. That’s why it doesn’t feel like an open source OS. Only once or twice a year, Google drops a bunch of code which can be said as open source and can be used by hardware and software tinkers for their products.
Other open source products, like Red Hat and Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu), gives users their say on app repositories and involves developers into contributing code.
In this way, Android is directly viewed as Google’s product.
Companies/Developers are Allowed to Lock Open Source Code
Most of the software we run on our Android OS isn’t really open source. No matter, which OEM’s device you are using you run software’s with closed sources. Even Google Apps and Google Launcher have become closed source.
The apps on google play store, even if they are free, aren’t open source. Since software contributes a large part of the device we are using, this makes us feel like Android is closed sourced platform.
But again that’s because people are allowed to make closed source software on Android. And Android, serving as a base for so many products is a salute to its success as an open source project.
We don’t have full control over Android
The reason why people are attracted to Linux is freedom and control to tinker with the Code. You can’t just go to the heart of a Mac OS X or Windows machine and tinker with it. It is a possibility available only on Android.
But, nowadays, Android devices ship with a marginal amount of freedom to customize the launcher, themes, and a slightly more freedom. The most possible tweaks are rooting your device and flashing a custom ROM.
But again, I say Android really is an open source operating system.
We can Take Control of Our Device
Manufacturers and OEMs don’t want you to take control of your device but you can. You may void your warranty, but you can take control of your device. You can gain admin access and even flash another OS, for example, Ubuntu Touch or Firefox OS.
This is a less advertised feature of Android but it is there and you can use it and know what feels like an open source OS.
ROMs made by the community based on Android Open Source Project (AOSP) exist and give alternatives to users to change the software that ships on their device. One of the most famous AOSP based Custom ROM is CyanogenMod and it runs on millions of smartphone. Even the experience is quite similar to Google Nexus. And that’s the reason people flash Custom ROM to get experience of different types of software.
Even the Other Open Source Competitors Depend on Android
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned 3 operating systems: Firefox OS, Sailfish OS, and Ubuntu Touch as completely open source operating systems. But, all these OS, have used Android in one way or another.
And call it irony, but Android could be closed source, but projects based on it can be open.
Now, does it matter whether Android is an Open source Operating system or not?
Yes, it does. People use open source operating systems for various reasons like:
- Using the free operating system, one can use hardware that works great, but the OEMs have decided to abandon.
- Many don’t trust giving up control of their data.
- Open source software remains even when it is no longer supported.
- And some ethical reasons like, determining what runs on which hardware, privacy, and freedom.
So, as of now, Android remains the best option for those who value and want to use open source.
Let us end this topic by asking users their opinion on does open source matter? Why you use android? Drop down a comment with your opinion. Also, share this article with your followers on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. I would love to hear all your thoughts.
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