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Google Delays Release of Honeycomb Code

03.25.2011
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Android devs got a punch in the gut this week as  Google has decided to keep Android 3.0 Honeycomb's code under lock and key for the foreseeable future.  This unexpected move reignites --- or perhaps perpetuates--- the debate surrounding Android's open source street cred.

Here's what Google said to Business Week when they announced that they weren't going to open Honeycomb to the general developer audience:

"The search giant says the software, which is tailored specifically for tablet computers that compete against Apple’s iPad, is not yet ready to be altered by outside programmers and customized for other devices, such as phones."

So, here's the big, hairy question:
Why is Google choosing to keep Honeycomb under wraps and is Android really an open-source project in the strictest sense of the word?

The first question might be the easiest to answer. In fact, you could answer it with one word: iPad 2 (if you don't count the '2' as a word).  If Google wants to create a mobile OS that can compete for market share with the iPad 2 and iPhone 4, they need to launch a nearly perfect OS.

One of Apple's major selling-points is their ability to consistently produce easy-to-use, stable products.  Android developers are fighting the stability battle with a handicap.  While Apple jealously guards its code, only releasing iOS on pre-approved hardware; Android developers are challenged with writing a stable OS that can be used on a multitude of hardware configurations.  Add to this the fickle nature of the general user public, and the true reason for Google's delay becomes apparent.  If they don't impress users out of the box, providing a true iPad/iPhone competitor, they are almost surely doomed to domination by Apple.

So, that leads us to the second question.  The way I see it, the open source universe exists as a continuum, not as a defined point.  To reconfigure some Orwell for our purposes, "All open source projects are open, but some are more open than others." Google's Android project is open in the sense that they are willing to eventually release the Honeycomb code to developers.  It is, however, less open than some of it's contemporaries and is certainly less open than it was in the past.

It remains to be seen whether Google's lockdown will help or hurt the Android 3.0 Honeycomb deployment.  Hopefully the wait will be worthwhile.
Published at DZone with permission of its author, Katie Mckinsey.

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