The Acer/Google/Alibaba tussle: It's not about open Android

The Acer/Google/Alibaba tussle: It's not about open Android

Summary: The recent cancellation of an Acer phone launch got tongues wagging about Google's involvement. Google's insistence that Acer stop the launch of a phone running the Aliyun OS by Alibaba in China got observers grousing about the "openness" of Android. Fact is it's not about Android at all.

TOPICS: Android, Google

Last week Acer was scheduled to hold a press event to launch a new smartphone running the Aliyun OS from Alibaba. Aliyun is built on the Android framework, but is a totally different fork of Android that according to Google renders it incompatible with the Android ecosystem. The launch event was cancelled at the last moment due to pressure on Acer from Google to stop the madness.

Acer immediately jumped in with a public complaint that Google was not being very open with Android. Alibaba also lamented that if Android was really open then Google would not be pressuring Acer to stop using it.

According to Andy Rubin of Google the company stepped in not to stop this fork of Android but to stop Acer from violating the agreement it entered when it joined the Open Handset Alliance (OHA). That is an alliance of OEMs who joined up early in the life of Android to promote the use of the platform for the good of all. Rubin states that the members of the OHA agreed to not use forks of Android incompatible with the ecosystem, and that Aliyun definitely fits that description.

"However, the fact is, Aliyun uses the Android runtime, framework and tools. And your app store contains Android apps (including pirated Google apps). So there's really no disputing that Aliyun is based on the Android platform and takes advantage of all the hard work that's gone into that platform by the OHA. " — Andy Rubin

Rubin also stated emphatically that Aliyun is based on Android, even including pirated Google apps. That's a telling statement and likely the reason behind Google's stepping in to stop Acer from using it, as the OHA agreement allows.

So Acer invoked the ire of Google not by using a fork of Android, but for using an incompatible fork in violation of the OHA terms. That's not the same thing as forcing Acer to stop using this particular fork of the platform just because Google doesn't like it.

The biggest fork of Android is the system Amazon is using on the Kindle Fires, and Google is not trying to pressure Amazon to stop using it. The reason is simple -- Amazon is not a member of the OHA and has not agreed to not do so. Acer would be in the same boat as Amazon if not for that pesky OHA membership which forbids the practice.

So this has nothing to do with the openness of Android (or lack of it). It has everything to do with the agreement that OHA members enter into that is designed to protect all the members from the very thing Acer has done with Aliyun. Or not done, since Google has successfully pointed out to Acer that it is in violation of the OHA.

This type of agreement is standard for alliances of this type. Members who join, while competitors, often agree to not compete in certain ways. This forms the basis of the alliance agreement that Acer has now violated according to Google.

This type of agreement is similar to those of many homeowners' associations or condo groups. You buy a condo and you sign an agreement defining what you can and can't do that might adversely affect the rest of the condo owners. 

For example, a condo agreement may prohibit the use of red front doors for whatever reason. If you as a new condo owner paint your door red you are in violation of the agreement you signed upon joining the group. It is no surprise the condo group will immediately demand, legally if necessary, that you repaint your door an approved color.

That doesn't mean the condo group is trying to control what you do with your own condo. It is enforcing the agreement each owner enters to preserve the value of the property as a whole. This is exactly what Google is doing with Acer and the OHA agreement. It's not about Android, it's about protecting the ecosystem as Rubin has stated.

Topics: Android, Google

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  • Children instead of business

    While what you say is true, it is Google trying to protect it's dominance in this field. That is a lot like what happened between Apple and Samsung. While they are both right in protecting their own interests it gives each of them a bad image in the eyes of people, consumers, towards them as companies. To me this is kind of like children playing and one wants their way so they say to the other I will take my toys and go home if you don't do what I want.

    The worst part is all the reporting that is going on which is a lot like gossip. This is purely an issue that happened between two companies doing business together. We the consumer really do not need to hear this happening but when two companies put this information out to the public then this is exactly what happens. I for one am not too happy with all this that has goes on in the public eye regarding any of these companies. Act like children and we will treat you as such, act like adults and we will treat you that way. Keep your fights and arguments in your own house so we don't have to listen to them. Are you listening?
    • Opinions Vary

      Wile I agree in concept to your view, there needs to be a "line" that demarks what is published and what is trivial and of minimal or little value to publish.
      Due to the announcements/rumours, I was looking forward to see exactly what Acer was launching (rumor vs. actual). The announcement of it not being launched leaves me with a want to know why.

      As omthe level of reporting.... Chuckle
    • They have to protect the compatibility and they have to be rough about it!

      Otherwise openness becomes the worst enemy of android and its ecosystem!
      • No more fragmentation

        Android is fragmented enough already, and the more than 300 Linux distributions provide a great example of what happens when fragmentation runs rampant:

        I use desktop Linux (Ubuntu 10.04), and prefer it to OS X or any flavor of Windows, but Linux is never going to get past 5% desktop share because of its hackerish cultural roots.
        • Windows too had hackerish roots.

          OSX too had them. In fact still have them. Go find what BSD is.
        • Ooh...

          I can't agree with this. Linux is safe and secure as a viable platform (even with single digit marketshare) BECAUSE there is a lot of development around different ideas, methods and objectives. I'd argue the shear number of distributions is a testament to Linux's success.

          Adopting a new distribution isn't that hard anyway - we're adding Raspbian to the mix without difficulty (and starting to deploy it - though not yet into a typical "desktop" role). It joins OS X and Windows in the mix of deployed systems (and Linux, of course).
    • Something that you don't notice

      There is something that you don't notice every day: "STANDARDS" and because of globalization the need fore them increases every day. Some standards eventually become Government mandated and some are developed by an Corporate agreements.

      What if the electrical receptacles in your house were different from everyone else's, what if you could not find a light bulb that fitted yours, what if you bought a toaster and you could not plug it in? What if the steering wheel and pedals on your car was in a different place or arrangement than everyone else's? Or the Gas nozzle would not fit into your tank filler?

      You compare companies like Apple to Google, when in this respect they are the very antitheses of each other. Apple is going for standards that ONLY THEY can use, (copyright and patent MONOPOLY) while Google is going for standards that EVERYONE can use (UNIVERSAL) Example: If you buy an iPhone 5 you will have to but new cradle devices (alarm clocks, and playback devices etc.) or but new adapter pigtails. Only Apple will sell these of course, or charge exorbitant licenses for others to produce them. And sue everyone who attempts to work around this Apple created monopoly.

      Suppose only GE was allowed to sell toasters that fit your outlets or worked with the electrical power standards, what price do you think a toaster would cost?

      This is all about the power elite protecting themselves with the system of legally granted monopolies. If you research the beginnings of the "copyright" and "patent" systems you will find that these were implemented by the RULING CLASS. At that time those laws would only apply to them because they were the only ones educated (could read and write and had some scientific education) But when we had the liberalization of the legal system then the laws applied to EVERYONE, and these MONOPOLISTIC type laws became an anachronism, that serve no SOCIAL GOOD or benefit, although that is what the legal spin of what they provide is. They are basically saying that for instance "if there was no patent law that inventions would cease, or there would be less of them", "if there was no copyright law that creative writing and music would cease". You could say the same thing about "cooking" or "clothing manufacture". But back in the day when these MONOPOLISTIC systems were implemented it was the serfs and not the RULING CLASS that did the cooking and made the clothing.
  • There is one other thing about the Amazon

    It is not breaking the compatibility so they can join OHA whenever they want and of course other members of OHA can use the os amazon is offering(this is the case if amazon wants to license it!)
    • And just as importantly..

      It's very easy to get the google store up and running on amazoid. The real crux of the matter; you can rebuild the oss parts of android as you wish; that's what happens when you use linux code - lets's be honest it was always a dubious decission to use gpl protected code rather than the much more business friendly BSD license in the beginning.

      After all It's the play store that matters; it's the gravy train, google is doing it's best to protect it. I don't disagree with them on that one. As the article suggests it's not about open source software; lets be honest with the OHA it never really was. Just like Apple and microsoft, Google have to take steps to protect their income due to effects of piracy. Would they bother to come down on acer with heavy threats if this fork still used the store dispite breaking other goals of the project? It's hard to say, but I'd have though it's unlikely.
      • I'm a linux user but one thing i have learned from linux Desktop is

        It doesn'i matter how great, open and even free your software is, if there is no strong business around it there will be no improving and no market share and as the consequence no freedom of choice either!
        With this decision they protect their compatibility and their business so why not?! Google has not opened a charity they have to make money too i don't understand why should anyone have a problem with that!
        • ?

          Isn't that more or less what I just said? Well the second part at least.

          The first bit's a bit spurious; plenty of OSS advancements have come through entirely voluntary work. However it is true that most of the major advancents do come from the companies behind the scenes; most notably red hat in linux, but that doesn't detract from the charitable projects that rely on donations and sponsors.

          The reason that OSS purists get annoyed at google is that their coding contribution back to linux isn't that great. Looking at the contributions to the linux kernel last year, google managed just 1% (just 50% more than MS and half as much as Oracle) whilst nokia contirubted 20% more. Interesting 17% does still come from volunteers though.

          As I said before, google can't complain about clones such as amazon; that's how they designed it; they may release under the apache licence, but there's also still lots of gpl protected code in there too.

          As for the fork; well many have commented that forks of Android were inevitable due to the lack of community aspect to it's development model. It males sence; releasing code in a traditional manner would give their rivals a heads up, but it was always going to cause distibutions revuilding the OS to eventuay fork it rather than await the code.

          The only isssue here is the piracy one. Google may not like amazon's model, but they can't do anything about it - it's how they released the software, and besides amazon will always be down stream, and I said previously it can easily run the play store which is what google need. Google only loose out if amazon are able to supply a superior app store, whoch is unlikely in the shor term.

          But as I said, the piracy of apps in thos fork has to be fought; everyone looses put there.
    • Err...

      No they couldn't. Their Kindle's OS would preclude it. If they wanted to join they'd need to use Android proper (albeit skinned). There are limits on what you can and can't modify. Furthermore they'd not be able to license it to other OHA alliance members.

      One roadblock is "Silk" their browser, this alone is a showstopper.
      • I hope they stop Amazon

        I'm glad Google puts it foot down here, because it doesn't happen often. Amazon has the potential to ruin "Android" with its cripple-ware. Folks line up for their cheap tablets not even realizing the digital handcuffs they are about to put on. With Apple and Amazon, you must accept buying all content and software from the same company, which works out well for their money-making needs. Don't consumers demand more? Google has to find a way to keep Android open, while keeping this kind of cripple-ware behind. With Jelly Bean and the latest google searching, gmail and maps apps, they have left Kindle in the dust, and with more products like Nexus 7 and Galaxy Note, there is hope for digital freedom yet. If you spend hundreds on a device, you should be able to install music, movies, and apps from anywhere you choose.
        M Lockton
  • I think this is more about companies wanting to get away from Google

    Unlike the red front door scenerio where the front door is still 100% compatible with the rest of the human race (as painting it red doesn't mean that the door won't open or you can't walk through it if you have a fake leg or whatever).

    This fork means in incompatible with Google, and that wasn't the intention of Google when they released Android - their idea was "use this for free, we'll supply the store where people shop from". I think companies just want to get away from Google.

    Just because they can't stop Amazon as they didn't join the Alliance doesn't mean Google's not feverishly looking for a way to do so. They'd love to force Amazon's hand here, but they can't.

    They can with Acer, though.
    William Farrel
    • Stopping by to have a drink

      I don't think the companies want to get away from Google so much as they want to sell stuff in China. From what I see happening, emissaries from the government of the Peoples Republic must be stopping by Chinese companies like Alibaba and Baidu to have a drink and talk about how great it would be if there were native Chinese operating systems for all these mobile devices. And then a second drink about how the permit for the new factory in Shenzhen might need more paperwork. Or not.
      Robert Hahn
    • Just love the self fullfilling posts

      Just because they can't stop amazon could also mean they are NOT feverishly looking for a way to do it. But because you say they are you then conclude that they in fact would love to force their hand.
      Brilliant. Simply brilliant.
  • Open Vs Fragmentation

    I like open software because you potentially have a huge pool of people that can contribute to its development. Problems is with all these people making their version of Android (We already have Amazon doing their own thing) we're gonna end up just like the current Linux community.

    Android should be just one OS, people can contribute to it but Google should have the last word on what direction its headed and what gets implemented. Not so much because they made it but because the alternative is the type of fragmentation Linux currently has.

    I'm secretly hoping android eventually becomes a full fledged OS not just for phones and tablets but for PCs in general and that's not going to happen if its split into incompatible pieces.
    • Wouldn't it be better to hope for a desktop version?

      Instead of trying to port android to the desktop - done it on my R-Pi - it makes more sense to make a full desktop OS that is binary compliant. You can try running android rebuilds at the moment for the desktop in VM's they're not very good unless you want to play angrybirds or something.

      Don't forget that Android is scaled down GNU/Linux at it's heart in a similar way to iOS being scaled down Mac OS. This was due to a hardware limitation in trying to run full blown unix derived systems on phones. Now an Android distro would be exciting ( especially compared to Google's last attempt at such a thing - Chrome; nice idea, real world fail.
  • This is what happened to Moblin

    When Moblin 2.x finally got stable, it got completely f'ed over by integrating Maemo. Out popped the bastard child that was MeeGo that should've been aborted. Now we're left with the after-birth of Tizen which is tightly controlled by Samsung, and looks like the result of the marriage of Android to its cousin Bada, while Mer resembles a chastized orphan.
    • Funny and informative

      One of the funniest and most informative comments I've ever read. I had only heard about MeeGo when Nokia ditched it for Windows, but had no idea about the history. The fragmented trail of tears is on wikipedia for all to read. This is mostly about controlling compatibility and preventing fragmentation, but in the end it comes done to Google's revenue stream and not something more altruistic. I certainly wish the general public could dig deeper into tech and better understand the issues involved in the smartphone/mobile revolution. But if the "low information voters" are any indication, that won't ever happen. As long as they don't keep calling for us all to join them for a life sentence in the crystal prison, then it doesn't really matter.

      Soon enough there will be mainland China companies cranking out high quality, incompatible phones like crazy that actually cater to Chinese users. And the OHA members will be shut out and won't be able to compete. And the only Chinese people using imported phones will be the rich girls with their iPhones. Google better focus on the market or get left behind. Apple doesn't really care since the girls buy their crap anyway purely for status reasons, even though it is a pain to use in Chinese. But Google doesn't have that luxury.