The Android Wikipedia page is quite a read. I’m particularly taken with the research into how “open” it is (not really, compared to other projects) as I’ve never seen a commit log or discussion of patches for it.
Moreover, our findings suggest that Android would be successful regardless of whether it is an open source project or not, to the extent that the vast majority of developers working on the project (the platform itself) are actually Google employees.
The section on Linux is intriguing too. Linus Torvalds says that Android and Linux would come back to a common kernel but that presumes Google will open it’s development and “innovate” in the open. I’ll just leave this here to check back on in 5 years time..
Meanwhile, there’s the Replicant project, an effort to make a completely Free Software version of Android. They want to remove proprietary device drivers and discourage the use of Google Market. Their list of supported phones is limited but I was surprised to see the iPhone listed there!
I did wonder what the difference was between Replicant and CyanogenMod. Various posts I’ve read on the XDA forums have stated over and over again that the project was more interested in open source solutions rather than using proprietary software but this thread on LWN shines some light on the issue.
Found the official line:
“CyanogenMod does still include various hardware-specific code, which is also slowly being open-sourced anyway.”
So, they’re being realistic about their efforts. They’ll use proprietary software when necessary but they’ll work towards replacing that software. At the rate that handset hardware changes I applaud them for taking this pragmatic route. The only phone the Replicant project fully supports is the relatively ancient HTC Dream. Yes, open source drivers should be released by manufacturers but that won’t happen.
Android isn’t really that open in terms that an Open Source advocate would understand. The traditional public CSV or SVN repository and a daily changelog is nowhere to be seen. It’s definitely developed in a cathedral rather than a bazaar. Does it matter to the vast majority of its users? Probably not, but I for one am happy it is Open Source and the code is out there. Without the (admittedly late) release of source code it would be much more difficult to use other after-market firmwares on Android phones.