No, Google is not making the Android SDK proprietary. What’s the fuss about?

No, Google is not making the Android SDK proprietary. What’s the fuss about?

Summary: The Free Software Foundation Europe is claiming that recent changes to the Google's Android Software Development Kit licensing terms has made the SDK into proprietary software. But if you look closely, that doesn't appear to be the case.

Android is as much open-source software as it ever was.

Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) member Torsten Grote claims that Google's "Android SDK [Software Development Kit] is now non-free software."On Twitter, Grote summed up his position as "#Android SDK is no longer #FreeSoftware. Is #Google turning evil?"

Grote's solution is not to drop Android. Rather, he suggests developers use "the truly Free Software version of Android called Replicant."

The particular clauses that Grote seems to object to is the restrictions in the Android SDK license in section 3.3 and 3.4:  

3.3 You may not use the SDK for any purpose not expressly permitted by this License Agreement. Except to the extent required by applicable third party licenses, you may not: (a) copy (except for backup purposes), modify, adapt, redistribute, decompile, reverse engineer, disassemble, or create derivative works of the SDK or any part of the SDK; or (b) load any part of the SDK onto a mobile handset or any other hardware device except a personal computer, combine any part of the SDK with other software, or distribute any software or device incorporating a part of the SDK.

This clause applies to the SDK binary, not the SDK source code files, and it has been around for years. The SDK source code, like almost all of Android, is covered by the Apache Software License 2 (ASLv2).

The new clause, introduced in November 2012 with the release of Android 4.2, was widely reported at the time. It reads:  

3.4 You agree that you will not take any actions that may cause or result in the fragmentation of Android, including but not limited to distributing, participating in the creation of, or promoting in any way a software development kit derived from the SDK.

Again, this license only covers the binary code. You can download the SDK source code with the SDK Manager. For more on how to do this see Lars Vogel's Making the Android SDK source code available in Eclipse. You can also get to the SDK code directly over  the Web via git.

Grote argues that since the Android SDK license starts with "In order to use the SDK, you must first agree to this License Agreement. You may not use the SDK if you do not accept this License Agreement,” that “This sentence alone already violates freedom 0, the freedom to use the program for any purpose without restrictions." That clause, however, has been in the license since at least April 10, 2009.

I don't follow his logic. All licenses require you to agree to them. For example, the preeminent free software license, the GNU General Public License version 3 (GPLv3) begins, "Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies of this license document, but changing it is not allowed." Does that last phrase make it any less free? I don't think so.

Grote also argues, "Google made this step to prevent fragmentation of the ecosystem. What are they going to do next? This situation is far from perfect for software freedom. Developing Android Apps in freedom is only possible as soon as the Replicant developers catch up. Looks like Android stops being a Free Software friendly platform."

That is one heck of an over-statement. Developers have been creating their own Android spins for years. For example, Amazon, which runs its own version of Android in its Kindle devices, still requires programmers to start with Google's Android SDK.

An important point to remember is that the Android SDK is not Android. You can fork Android source code to your heart's content. You just can't call the result Android. And, if you can write a working Android app without the SDK, well good for you. No one's stopping you. 

Android itself, or to be more exact, its user-space platform components, is licensed under the ASLv2. Its base operating system is Linux, which is licensed under the GPLv2. Google encourages developers to license their Android applications under ASLv2. True, Google's use of ASLv2 bothers some open-source developers but that's been true since the beginning.

Put it all together and what do you get? You get an Android that's about as open-source friendly as it ever was. If you don't like it, fine, you can use Replicant, which is compatible with Android 4.0. But there really hasn't been any significant change in Google's open-source Android policies. This is a tempest in a teapot.

Related Stories:

Topics: Android, Google, Legal, Linux, Mobile OS, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software Development

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Sorry, Google = sick

    Google = a bunch of hypocrites and thieves.

    A clown named Schmidt is travelling to North Korea, why should anybody trust a company headed by that idiot.
    • Owlll1net, where do you get these ideas?

      Please enlighten us... In what way is Schmidt going to North Korea to try and facilitate an opening of that society a bad thing. Like i don't get where your coming from...
    • Owlll1net

      Larry Page, a Google co-founder, is heading up Google now. He replaced Eric Schmidt as CEO some time ago. Where've you been?
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • I know that...

        Schmidt represents Google in many countries. Larry hardly go out of his house.
    • Really!

      I was going to call you profoundly, abysmally stupid, then realized that description does not even begin to scratch the surface of your mental deficiency.
      • Open your eyes.

        Google stole all 'open source' technology to jump start its business, started its life as a Windows parasite. Now they are claiming that all that technology is theirs.

        And now they are blocking WP users from accessing their maps site, they claim that its optimized for web kit browsers only and IE. It wasn't long time ago they preached about HTML standards.

        Google business ethics is unprofessional and pathetic. Dump their products or the users will regret later.
        • nope

          It is widely contrary what you say so you get points from good trolling. Have a nice day.
        • wow

          I though it's Microsoft (and Apple) usually steals ideas from the free and open source products, patent them and then litigate. Say, that old Linus Torvald's idea on long filenames issues for the vfat filesystem.
    • sure.. of course

      So are you one of those idiot USA citizens who has been brainwashed to think communism and socialism is bad and everyone who travels to such country is a security risk, traitor, etc etc?
    • Let me guess...

      Let me guess... you also an Apple fanboy and voted for the same teabaggers that made the Republican Congress the most inept in 100 years. Oh, and probably think the solution to Newtown is more guns....
    • Probability threshold crossed!

      You're clearly a bigger plank than Bottom.
  • I don't think you know what an OS really is.

    Linux as you are calling it is a kernel. It is not what most people mean when they refer to an operating system. GNU/Linux is "Linux" the OS.

    Android is Android. It is related to Linux, but it is *not* Linux.

    If a Kernel made an OS, then Windows ME and Windows XP would be completely different operating systems, while Windows RT (or even Windows Phone 8) and Windows 8 would be the same OS, likewise Macs and iOS devices. Of course, most people recognize that since most applications written for "Windows" run natively on ME and XP, those are both "Windows."

    No, the kernel is just one piece of what makes an OS an OS, and the Android OS *is* now a lot more proprietary thanks to these changes. This is Google's first steps toward exercising tighter control over their platform. It may be good, it may be bad, but it isn't inconsequential.
    x I'm tc
    • Sigh

      Yes the first part is true but the OSX kernel and iOS kernel are completely different... Googleout are just out to make money it's not like they give a flying fuk about OSS like this retarded author seems to think. He will defent the "not evil" Google even when pretty much everything they do is indeed evil!
      • You solved nothing with your rants

        Articles will continue regardless.
        Feel sad now.
      • nope

        XNU is same operating system in iOS and OS X but compiled to ARM and X86(_64) architecture.
        Same OS but different release. Just like you can do with any OS like Linux and NT (now again).
    • nope

      You are so wrong. Operating System is synonym to "KERNEL" but kernel and microkernel are totally different things. More Like a java and JavaScript.

      KERNEL is a original operating system term. It was time when there were only a single architecture for OS and few decades later when Server-Client architecture was invented and presented the term "operating system" became in use because in new architecture software what had all kernel functions were separated to microkernel and servers what all were standalone programs instead one giant program in Monolithc architecture.

      NT is operating system what microsoft developed from VMS (copied actually, but they hired VMS engineers to do it). Microsoft use now NT in Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT. First windows to use NT operating system is Windows NT 3.1.

      IOS and OS X use same operating system called XNU. it is open source and free software as OSI and FSF states it. Mach microkernel is used in XNU and as well used too in GNU's own operating system HURD.

      Linux kernel is monolithic (modular as well but it is binary level, not architecture level) and means Linux kernel is the operating system as it includes all OS functions as always every OS has included.

      Linux kernel and Linux operating system and Linux are exactly same thing but people like you mistake that
      Linux operating system means software system using Linux
      Linux kernel as it is a Linux microkernel
      Linux as GNU/Linux (what is more like actual development platform (Linux OS + GNU development software))

      And windows ME and Windows XP _has_ different operating system in use. Other is last version of MS-DOS series and another use 5.1 version of NT operating system.

      You forgot that software system is much more that OS and applications. there are thousands of software libraries, system programs, software platforms etc what sit between OS (monolithic or server-client) and applications itself and they are those what makes compatibility for everything what is top of them.
  • The true Open source Mobile OS is Ubuntu

    It's too bad Android is catalogued as open source, new devices from Samsung and Nexus devices can only install apps from Google Play Store, on the other side, Ubuntu Mobile OS, Firefox mobile OS or Tizen from Samsung look more promising for independent developers which don't want to integrate their apps with Google services like Google Plus, Gmail, Google docs, Google drive, etc.

    Google should abandon Android future development, so that OEM's can install real open source mobile operating systems.
    Gabriel Hernandez
    • Huh?

      I have the amazon app store, and GetJar on my Galaxy Nexus. All you need to do is disable the security setting which won't allow installations not from Google. It's really quite simple.
      • does that work on Samsung Galaxy S3 also?

        Thanks for the update, I'll try this on a Samsung Galaxy S3, I think Amazon has great apps on their store.
        Gabriel Hernandez
    • nope

      Ubuntu doesn't use different OS what Android. Linux operating system is licensed under GPLv2 and it can not be changed. And rest of Android is 100% open source under apache license.

      Do not promote Ubuntu with lies please.