Google rejects GPL in new gPhone alliance

Google rejects GPL in new gPhone alliance

Summary: Days after making waves in the nascent social networking pond with its OpenSocial initiative, Google just cannonballed into the much larger world of mobile phones. Today Google announced the Open Handset Alliance, a consortium of over 30 technology and mobile companies, and Android, an open source software stack for mobile devices. A developer SDK for Android will be available on November 12th, and phones (gPhones?) that conform to the Android standard are expected in the second half of 2008.

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Days after making waves in the nascent social networking pond with its OpenSocial initiative, Google just cannonballed into the much larger world of mobile phones. Today Google announced the Open Handset Alliance, a consortium of over 30 technology and mobile companies, and Android, an open source software stack for mobile devices. A developer SDK for Android will be available on November 12th, and phones (gPhones?) that conform to the Android standard are expected in the second half of 2008.

Andy Rubin (of Sidekick fame), Director of Mobile Platforms at Google, says that the Android platform will include "an operating system, user-interface and applications -- all of the software to run a mobile phone, but without the proprietary obstacles that have hindered mobile innovation." The goal? "A better and faster pace for innovation that will give mobile customers unforeseen applications and capabilities."

Under the covers, the new platform is built on the open Linux Kernel, created by Linus Torvalds. Linux is licensed under GPLv2, but the rest of Android will be covered by the Apache v2 license. From the FAQ:

Why did you pick the Apache v2 open source license? Apache is a commercial-friendly open-source license. The Apache license allows manufacturers and mobile operators to innovate using the platform without the requirement to contribute those innovations back to the open-source community. Because these innovations and differentiated features can be kept proprietary, manufacturers and mobile operators are protected from the "viral infection" problem often associated with other licenses.

Android will use a publicly accessible repository, with module owners similar to how the Linux kernel is managed. However it will likely be a central repository hosted at Google.

Various Open Handset partners will be contributing parts of the new platform. For example,

  • Ascender will provide a collection of fonts for use by the system and third party applications
  • Nuance will provide the software to implement voice commands
  • PacketVideo is contributing OpenCORE, software that supports music applications, video creation and playback, podcast services, and real-time streaming
  • SONiVOX is contributing its audioINSIDE technology, which includes General MIDI instrument sets, audio codecs and effects, interactive game audio (think DirectMusic without Microsoft), and ringtones

One question that remains unanswered at this point is how developers will program the platform, i.e., what language they will use. Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz congratulated Google on "their new Java/Linux phone platform, Android". The web pages for Android say that the system "utilizes a custom virtual machine that has been designed to optimize memory and hardware resources in a mobile environment", and that sounds like Java. But if Java is part of the equation, it almost certainly won't be from Sun because Sun's mobile Java stack is all GPL. Perhaps they're planning to include Harmony, the Apache-licensed open source implementation of Java that has yet to be used anywhere outside of a few demonstration projects.

My guess is that the platform will be primarily programmed in C, with Java (and other languages) as an option. The inclusion of Wind River as an alliance partner points to C, since they market a commercial Eclipse-based C development system and Google says that tools will be included. Another partner, Esmertec, says that "Beyond Open Source of Android, Esmertec's leading edge Jbed Java Virtual Machine (JVM) platform can easily be made commercially available per customer request for the Alliance 's mobile platform." Jbed lets you run standard Java ME applications, but it's not open source.

Some have speculated that Apple might support Android on the iPhone. I think that's unlikely given that the iPhone is based on MacOSX which has its own unique programming interfaces. Apple's XCode tools are based on Objective-C, which almost nobody but Apple uses any more. Maybe eventually virtual machines will make their way to handsets, and you'll be able to have Windows CE, PalmOS, Android/gPhone, Symbian, and MacOS/iPhone, running at the same time. Not that you'd really want to.

Topics: Mobility, Android, Google, Linux, Open Source

Ed Burnette

About Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette is a software industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience as a programmer, author, and speaker. He has written numerous technical articles and books, most recently "Hello, Android: Introducing Google's Mobile Development Platform" from the Pragmatic Programmers.

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21 comments
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  • Their code, their license

    Sounds fair enough to me. At least it's open.
    Michael Kelly
  • Sounds just like Microsoft "open source".

    ;-)
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • Not really

      Unlike the typical MS-license, the Apache license allows developers to do pretty much whatever they want with the source code, to include releasing derivatives under the GPL (the two licenses are compatible).
      John L. Ries
      • Did you see

        the ;-)
        No_Ax_to_Grind
  • RE: Google rejects GPL in new gPhone alliance

    Did the new alliance members chose Apache v2 as a preference over GPL? Why did Google come to this conclusion? This does allow individual alliance members to build proprietary product features that would enhance their market share.
    dandebusschere
    • Did the new alliance members chose...

      "This does allow individual alliance members to build proprietary product features that would enhance their market share"

      You hit the nail on the head. Members are free to do that if they want. Use of the Apache license gives them that option. However if the open source model is better than proprietary, then one could argue that would put them at a competitive disadvantage in the long run.
      Ed Burnette
  • There's something wrong...

    with using other's work for free but not opening up your's.
    bjbrock
    • Yeah, everyone should build identical

      phones with identical software. Pfffttt.....
      No_Ax_to_Grind
    • Re: Something wrong

      You and I may agree with that but who are we to impose our belief on others? I say, let others come to that conclusion on their own. If open source is better, then it will win on its own merits in the long term. Make sense?
      Ed Burnette
    • Why?

      The open source model is much more sophisticated than you give it credit for. Contributing your own code back to the community is just one way developers add value to the larger system. Mindshare is key, and with this in mind one can't use open source software/code without contributing value to the community (even if you try not to). Google picked the license it did because they felt like it would make the project most successful. You can argue against their judgment but not that they are being immoral. Developers who decide not to contribute their own changes aren't being immoral either because they are following the terms of the agreement. If this were immoral, then someone somewhere would have to get less out of the bargain than they had honest reason to expect. Just who might that be?
      enduser_z
  • Google is responsible to shareholders

    This would be like taking Intel's chip design, manufacturing your own chip based on Intel's design and then reaping the profits without the obligation to give anything back to Intel.

    In the end everything can be boiled down to bits. Everything has a spec sheet. This is the new Open-Source/Closed-Result model. Why buy when you can indefinitely borrow. It's just like your neighbor borrowing your tools and you never see them again except when you notice that their lawn is mowed and hedges trimmed. You know they're in your neighbor's Goorage, but you have no way to get them.
    THEE WOLF
    • Borrowing from your neighbor

      "It's just like your neighbor borrowing your tools and you never see them again except when you notice that their lawn is mowed and hedges trimmed."

      Suppose I *want* my neighbors to borrow my tools so I tell them its ok. There might be several reasons I'd want to do this, for example I might be trying to increase my property value by making the neighborhood look nicer. Or I might be trying to butter them up because I want to borrow something of theirs in the future.
      Ed Burnette
    • Not really

      The kernel is GPL V2, and therefore it can't be modified without releasing the new source code. It won't be. Any new NON GPLed code that is built to run on the GPL code will have the apache license. In your example, people could only take intel's design if intel Open Sourced it, which they haven't.

      TripleII
      TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
  • Good for them, the GPLv3 sucks.

    Good for google. Most devs I've talked to stick with GPLv2 rather than v3, specially those working on hardware devices like STB's and media players.
    kraterz
  • Nothing wrong there...

    Google "chose" to make their platform open and NOT require those using it (developers) to open up their code as well. Think of it this way... Google just wanted to create something useful/beneficial for mobile developers (because it just "wanted to" or thought it would be "cool") and does not expect any thanks from anyone in return. (However, we all know that Google doesn't really need anyone's thanks, what they really want is the revenue that's going to come out of all this. And they expect really [b]BIG[/b] chunks of revenue...)

    :D
    four-eyes_z
  • Why didn't they choose the BSD license, then?

    A BSD-like license would have pretty much the same effects. RMS* talks about four fundamental freedoms for the software, and neglects one: The freedom to [b]keep it to yourself[/b], which the BSD license does acknowledge. Alas the Apache license also has similar clauses.

    *Richard M Stallman is the founder of the GNU project, president of the Free Software Foundation and Free Software Activist.

    Definition of Free Software and the four freedoms (I still think the freedom to keep it to one's self is missing)

    http://www.fsf.org/licensing/essays/free-sw.html
    gmureddu
    • Freedom to keep it

      That's always there. If you choose never to license it then any copying not authorized by you is a case of copyright infringement.

      Most of the software I right I keep for myself. I doubt anyone would want it anyways. I don't license it for anything. If I chose to distribute it I'd choose a license I want at that time.
      voska
    • BSD vs. Apache

      Probably because a) the Apache license is more "modern" and spells out things like patent and trademark rights, and b) Greg Stein and friends wanted it that way (http://blogs.zdnet.com/Burnette/index.php?cat=22)
      Ed Burnette
  • Choice IS confusing

    To Microsoft drones. Since their EULA allows zero choice, the concept of choice escapes their comprehension.

    Meanwhile, for open source users, it's business as usual.....
    Ole Man
  • Google rejected Shared Source, GPL2 and BSD and ...

    The title is very misleading. They, in fact, REJECTED and therefore slammed EVERY SINGLE license known to man EXCEPT the Apache license. So long as they don't violate the GPL2 code moving forward with the Apache license, no harm no foul, they can have fun.

    As the story indicates, the Apache license means prorietary elements can be included (and many forks) which means more development by nervous companies. The downside, each will re-invent the apple 11 times and there may well be 13 forked libraries causing bloat, but it is always a tradeoff.

    Either way, should MS be saddened that they didn't use the shared source license?

    TripleII
    TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827