My thoughts on the Google Android v. Cyanogen Kerfuffle

A few of you know that I’m a huge fanboy of something called the CyanogenMod. If you have a Goodle Android phone, like the T-Mobile G1 or myTouch, watch out, because before you know it, I’ll have it rooted and running an alternate version of the operating system.CyanogenMod is like Ubuntu for mobiles – the sexiest, smoothest running “distro” you can get your hands on, and that you want to show off to all your friends running lesser, closed, proprietary operating systems (especially ones distributed by Apple). CyanogenMod exists because Android is an open-source mobile operating system – in fact, it is the only commercially viable open-source mobile operating system. When the words “open-source” and “commercially viable” exist in close proximity to each other, I usually start talking too fast and wave my arms excitedly.

Recently, a kerfuffle arose where in some overeager/ever-vigiliant IP lawyers at Google sent the developer of Cyanogen a CeaseAndDesist letter, because in his custom distro of Android he included certain closed source applications that are NOT part of Android. Unfortunately, the closed source applications weren’t just some utilities or demo applications, but actually GMail, Google Maps, YouTube and the Android Market. It could be stated that these are pretty much the essential end-user experience for the common user. In addition, some of the companies behind the hardware device drivers in the ROM are also beginning to complain.

However, Cyanogen, being the innovative, clever hacker he has revealed himself to be, along with the hundreds of other Android MOD hackers out there, are bound to come up with a clever solution to this mess shortly. After all, when you purchase an Android phone off the shelf, you buy the right to a license of those applications, and should be able to continue using them on your device, regardless of the underlying operating system flavor you are running. (To keep abreast of the latest developments, which seem to be taking new twists and turns each hour, you should check

Finally, I just wanted to state some points about my perspective on the “open source”-ness of Android and the possibilities for any project looking to distribute custom MODs of it , including my own Guardian Project:

  • Android is not completely open-source; we’ve all known that for awhile, specifically b/c the entire baseband layer and radio firmware are closed source. These are the pieces that manage the GSM radio, controlling all the actual interface into the wireless network. This is just the reality of the mobile phone industry today. (Mad props to OpenMoko and BugLabs for making actual, true completely open-source mobile software and hardware.)
  • Having custom MODs of Android released without the Google pieces in there by default is actually a good thing… Android has always been perceived as being too tied into Google by default. I want to build the non-Google Google Phone. If Yahoo had a clue, they’d release their own open-source client applications for their mail and map services and make a Yahoogle Phone.
  • There are plenty of excellent, truly open-source alternatives out there for the market, maps and video players. This will give those solutions opportunities to shine. Specifically checkout the OpenStreetMap-based AndNav and AndAppStore an open alternative to the Market. PixelPipe offers uploads to YouTube, Blip, Flickr and many other media sharing sites. Finally, K9Mail is a open-source email client that works just fine with GMail’s IMAP service.
  • Android is fundamentally built to route around Google’s centralized control… you don’t NEED a marketplace. You can download and install apps directly via a URL link, send them via Bluetooth, install them from an SD card and so forth.
  • Just the fact that it is possible for Cyanogen and the tens of other MOD and theme distributors out there to do what they are doing is completely freaking fantastic. We have to thank and commend Google for that. Compared to the glacial speed of OS update release cycle, etc. of Palm when I worked there, Cyanogen is moving at warp speed, embracing the best practices of agile and duct tape progamming.

That’s all I have for now… I’d love to hear from you. Perhaps I being too kind? Any other excellent true open-source alternatives out there for the Google closed apps? What do you think about the possibility for a Yahoogle phone?