Is Android REALLY "Open Source?"


Senior Member
Oct 5, 2010
Just saw this article over at Is Android Open?

It raises some good points about the openness (or lack of it) with the Android code. How does Android stack up against the three traits of "open source" projects?

1. A license that insures you can modify, reuse, and redistribute the code.

Check! Android is released under the Apache 2.0 license.

2. Community-driven development.

Nope! Google works on it in house and releases major updates at press conferences. You can't see "nightly builds" with incremental changes and you can't contribute back upstream.

3. The user has total freedom over the device and software.

Obviously not for non-rooted devices and it seems even rooted ones are limited in what you can control and change.

The only way to get a TRUE open source Android would be for someone to fork the entire codebase of some version into a new project not under the control of either Google or the wireless carriers. That popped a thought into my head: most of these Android tablets can't even USE the wireless carriers since they are wi-fi only devices. They certainly shouldn't have their codebase held hostage by the carriers! Also, these gray market tablets aren't being made with Google's help or blessing anyway, so wouldn't it be better if they were using their own forked version of Android tailored to wi-fi only tablets?

But I'm not aware of any Android forks out there anywhere.


Super Moderator
Staff member
Aug 6, 2010
Take a look at Cyanogen or similar efforts. You need to understand, The OSS and GNU is broken by all of the more successful manufacturers/developers that use Linux or similar "open source" The glorious concept of Open vs Closed has become a marketing term. It is not any different than any other software base Microsoft/Apple and even Unix.
You state it yourself it will take someone to fork it themselves. But when you look at all of the better Security software, they are closed version of what was originally open source. Look at Tripwire, SourceFire and even many of the products which evolved out of SourceForge. There is at some point a need for profit and uniqueness. There are good versions of being open as in Android and bad versions of being open as in prior Archo AOS which is a Linux kernel.

Like I said look about. Cyanogen is but one example CyanogenMod | Android Community Rom based on FroYo.


Senior Member
Oct 5, 2010
I'm not taking the position that there shouldn't be closed derivatives. Certainly the ability to modify and incorporate proprietary interfaces and features is a big selling point to the wireless carriers and the device manufacturers as a way to create uniqueness. As you point out, there are closed/proprietary projects out there that came out of open source ones, and that's the way it should (licensing allowing for it, of course) work. The closed source ones should derive from the open source ones.

But the way the current Android development model works, Google holds all the cards so it's effectively a closed process because you can't see the incremental changes, and there's no dev community because you can't contribute code back upstream the way other open source project work. "Vanilla" Android should be totally open so it's a two-way street. I wouldn't be surprised if, at some point, Cyanogen did completely fork away from the official Android releases.


Nov 11, 2010
More open than palm os, iOS, windows mobile, and blackberry os? Definitely. Truly open? No. But for good reason. Google wants it to succeed and needs to maintain some control on the core features. Otherwise you end up getting a fairly negative impression with the public. Android is still very new. Mobile smart devices are still in their infancy. 10 years ago Linux had the opportunity to take on Windows but it failed because the community didn't have a focused direction and no control over hardware requirements. Apple stepped in instead with OS X which at it's core is just UNIX.
I think once Android has matured a bit more, Google will still lead the development, but will open it up to the public.