Google's Schmidt bends the truth on Android's openness to Senators

Google's Schmidt bends the truth on Android's openness to Senators

Summary: Google's Eric Schmidt's testimony in front of the US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee suggests that Android is open for all. But that may be bending the facts.

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TOPICS: Android, Google
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Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt's long-awaited appearance in front of the US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust today rightly focused on the issue of whether or not Google "cooked" search results in its own favor.

But his testimony inevitably touched on the Android mobile operating system and how its openness fosters competition. The problem is that I think his representation of Google Android's openness was unfairly skewed.

Here's the relevant bit of Schmidt's testimony, taken from the transcript available on the Senate committee's webpage:

Open sourcing software has real benefits in the marketplace[...]rather than having to build their own operating systems, companies can and do use Android, as a full-fledged operating system, to power many different types of devices. In fact Android's openness allows anyone to take it and develop it independently – Amazon reportedly is doing this with a tablet expected to go on sale this fall and others have too. Android's openness has helped make mobile computing competitive by allowing the introduction of lower-priced smartphones and pushing other companies to innovate and improve their products – all resulting in better phones for less.

I think there are few reading this who would argue with Schmidt's core principle that open source often equates to more product versatility and innovation.

But Google has been slowly but surely closing off the Android mobile operating system, going so far as to not release the Android 3.x code as open source at all. That means that the maintenance and future of Android devices - especially tablets - are almost as much in the hands of the Google Android team and its OEMs as iOS devices are in Apple's. That's something that the Google Android project was designed to avoid from the word "go."

And speaking of OEMs, the ongoing FTC probe into Google's business practices expanded in early August to include Android, allegedly on accustations that Google was bullying handset manufacturers into abandoning competing products.

Couple that with Google's acquisition of Motorola Mobility, which is already generating rumors of unfair play in the Android market thanks to the existence of "highly proprietary source code," and you start to see an unflattering picture of just how open and pro-competition the Android ecosystem may actually be.

What I'm trying to get at is this: Schmidt's claim that Android is widely available and able to be developed isn't exactly a lie - he's correct when he says that Amazon is developing a Kindle tablet built on a modified version of Android. And previous versions of Android remain available for any developer to find, download, and tinker with.

But it's increasingly untrue that all Android devices start from a level playing field. And it's hardly fair play for Schmidt to suggest that they do in front of panel of US Senators.

Topics: Android, Google

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46 comments
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  • Shouldn't be an issue...

    We're still in a war based on bended facts.

    Laws get made (or repealed) based on bended facts.

    Federal, State, and Local Organization's budgets get cut or increased based on bended facts.

    I'm sure the majority of those Senator's tax returns are based on bended facts.

    That panel of Senators should say "Ok", and move on to something a little more pressing. I'm sure most would agree our country has more serious issues than whether Joe the Plumber can freely develop for the latest slice of Android.
    UrNotPayingAttention
    • RE: Google's Schmidt bends the truth on Android's openness to Senators

      @chmod 777

      "That panel of Senators should say "Ok", and move on to something a little more pressing. I'm sure most would agree our country has more serious issues than whether Motorola or Samsung can freely develop for the latest slice of Android, using Skyhook for location services."

      Fixed it for you.

      P.S. where does "joe the plumber" get the source code for Honeycomb so he can tinker with it on his phone?
      bannedagain
      • He can't right now

        @bannedagain

        I'm told Joe can't code all that well anyway. *nod nod*
        Michael Alan Goff
      • RE: Google's Schmidt bends the truth on Android's openness to Senators

        @bannedagain I don't think I'd want Joe tinkering with my code. I surely wouldn't want him tinkering with my presidential campaign.
        Champ_Kind
      • RE: Google's Schmidt bends the truth on Android's openness to Senators

        @Champ_Kind Don't have any clue if he can code or not but would put more faith in him when it comes to anything presidential than Obama :-)
        non-biased
    • not everyone is astute enough

      @chmod 777 to recognize that google is open.
      LlNUX Geek
  • RE: Google's Schmidt bends the truth on Android's openness to Senators

    Google telling lies? Well color me shocked.
    LP212
  • so

    you can't have a better idea than anyone else now and sell and keep it secret so your idea remains the best idea? jesus, the idea of fair play in this country astounds me. everyone is not going to get rich. everyone is not going to have the best idea at the perfect time and everyone is not going to take the chance and the risk or reputation or financial well-being to promote that idea. quit whining. google came up with their idea, they 'marketed' it successfully and if they make 100 trillion dollars off of it so be it. the world is not 'fair'. business is not 'fair'. life is not 'fair'. deal with those facts and move on.
    voxabgnarus
    • But...

      @voxabgnarus Of course you can have a better idea and keep it secret

      But if you start off with open source aren't you supposed to be bound by the license to KEEP it open source

      By all means, start from scratch and develop your own and keep it secret - but....
      archangel9999
      • RE: Google's Schmidt bends the truth on Android's openness to Senators

        @archangel9999 No, actually. Truly open source include the ability to take the code, make changes/improvements, and KEEP the new stuff secret. Just because you use open source does NOT mean anything including it or linked to it MUST be contributed back to open source. It may be nice if people do this, but it certainly is not mandatory.

        On the specific case of Honeycomb (Android 3.x), I would be willing to cut a little slack here - things are moving very rapidly. Android was originally meant to be a single OS for phones. Tablets emerged out of the blue (or green, for apple), and many manufacturers took honeycomb or earlier variants and modded it themselves to make it work. Google saw the mixed results and decided that Honeycomb needed some (significant) work before releasing it as the starting point for manufacturers as open source. After all, people would not be happy if they put in a lot of work on a release that could not easily be ported into the next point version. At that point, I think Google started working with the few people they had already given honeycomb to, with the intention of polishing honeycomb as a tablet OS and releasing it. However, events have continued to zoom along, and it may be that honeycomb gets obsoleted as a doomed fork, and Ice Cream Sandwich becomes the next official, properly open-sourced version.
        dimonic
      • Exactly this.

        @archangel9999 The whole "we're making an OPEN SOURCE ZOMG operating system" and then carefully not releasing portions of it and making it more and more closed is not just a violation of the license under which it was released, it's a violation of bait-and-switch consumer protection laws.
        SenorAlejandro
    • RE: Google's Schmidt bends the truth on Android's openness to Senators

      @voxabgnarus Did you read the article? Your rant doesn't really have anything to do with the issue he was speaking of.
      non-biased
  • He's seems incapable of telling the truth anymore

    So no surprise at this. Even a great company would become shady with him on board. A compnny that lives to exploit as many people as possible + dirtbag = EVIL
    Johnny Vegas
    • You just described Microsoft!

      @Johnny Vegas

      Must be the hidden truth you have been hiding all along....
      linux for me
    • RE: Google's Schmidt bends the truth on Android's openness to Senators

      @Johnny Vegas
      company that exploits ppl + dirtbag = evil. you must be talking about facebook + microsoft then. yeah they are
      tejainece
  • Closed-Source Android Hasn't Been Selling All That Well

    Android continues to be ridiculously successful on smartphones, all of which are running open-source versions of Android. Analysts say Android has grabbed 20% of the tablet market, but I'll wager hardly any of that has been the high-profile Honeycomb-running offerings, most of that will be cheap no-name knockoffs running Android 2.x.

    Google have claimed that the reason they haven't released the source to Android 3.x is because the quality hasn't been up to scratch. Seems like the customers agree.
    ldo17
    • RE: Google's Schmidt bends the truth on Android's openness to Senators

      @ldo17

      Doesn't matter, by the use of Open Source (GPL specifically), when a product is SHIPPED, the source code needs to be made available. Period. Last I saw there are already a few products that has been selling to the general public that is running on Android 3.0. There's no out clause in there that say if the software isn't 'primetime', it's okay to not provide the source code.
      JJ_z
      • RE: Google's Schmidt bends the truth on Android's openness to Senators

        @JJ_z If you believe that, sue them.
        Badge3832
      • So much emotion, so little fact

        @JJ_z - Google maintains ALL of the GPL-licensed Android code as completely public, all the time. The code that they reserve right to release after they deem it ready is Apache licensed, and that's permitted.

        Their explanation of why they do this is at http://source.android.com/source/code-lines.html, and frankly, reads pretty reasonably.

        Anyone who thinks all open source projects make all code available all the time doesn't understand the practical realities of open source development. Heck, even with GPL, developers make changes that they work on privately until they release it to the public branch. No one expects full visibility into every developer's change, line by line, every moment. The Google situation isn't different in kind, only in scale.
        daboochmeister
  • Not even remotely bending the truth

    I see nothing in the statement that even remotely bends the truth. Android is an open source OS. It is controlled by Google, but the source is open and available for download to do as anyone sees fit. Yes, the honeycomb source is not available. But that's because it was rushed to the market and not in a state where it should be open sourced. The next version of Android ICS will merge the phone and tablet OSes and will be open sourced.

    You don't even have to wait to see Amazon's upcoming tablet. Just look at the Nook and Nook Color that have been out for a couple of years. Look at the chinese phones that have Baidu on it and some with no Google services at all. Look at Verizon Android phones with Bing on it. I wouldn't want to buy a phone without Google Search and Google Services.

    But manufacturers are free to make them and consumers are free to buy them.
    os2baba