Google and MIT have announced an initial free and open-source release of the 'App Inventor' source code for Android.
In the same week that Google announced it will be closing its Picnik image editing service, Urchin web analytics tool, social graph API, Needlebase and several other products, it seems this tool has also been given the boot as a Google service.
The search engine giant has continually expanded its business and influence, so it stands to reason sometimes projects will be shuttered or released in order to allow Google to strengthen other areas. For those that would like a crack at improving software or products, making the App Inventor open source gives others this chance.
After Google first announced its plans to bin the development platform, it found a new home at MIT labs, in order to allow continued use for educational purposes. The labs already host Scratch -- an interface designed to create apps, games or animations.
App Inventor assumes users have zero programming knowledge, and allows developers to create mobile apps for a variety of functions through a drag-and-drop visual interface.
There's currently little supporting documentation yet, and we're not accepting contributions to the code right now. That will happen later, after the MIT Center of Mobile Learning opens their App Inventor server to the public. We hope to nurture a robust and active open-source project eventually, but for now we don't want to distract the MIT developers from their efforts to complete and deploy the large-scale public server.
An accompanying Google group for would-be developers has also been established to help open-source developers if they wish to use the code, and BuildingAndRunning is an additional resource to help people get started.
The released code will be updated by Google to mirror what is running at the latest MIT experimental system.
MIT isn't ready to accept code contributions from the open source developer community, but anyone can download, build, use, and modify the App Inventor for their own needs. In the future, these users will also be able to contribute to improving the development tool.
If people create modified versions of the code, according to Google they are free to use both the term 'App Inventor' and the puzzle-piece Android logo in their work.