Last Friday, Google committed one if the cardinal sins of the digital age: “Anger ye not the Internet”. There has been an explosion of betrayed outrage across a huge number of blogs over the weekend. What has Google done to inspire this? It sent a Cease and Desist order to an Android developer of an extremely popular mod for the open OS.
CyanogenMod is an Android modification created by developer Steve Kondik. It is an independently maintained and updated version of the Google OS, which offers bundled applications, faster runtime and even some features that the main OS doesn’t have. For example, CyanogenMod offered multitouch before Android. Kondik claimed the mod had over 30,000 users. It allowed all of the same functions as the full Android OS – including SMS and voice calls, MMS and access to all the same applications.
Last Friday, it was revealed that Kondik has been slapped with a C & D order from Google. Over the weekend, he made a post on his CyanogenMod blog that he was in contact with Google to try and work it out. Today, the CyanogenMod site has disappeared.
What’s the problem?
The problem, essentially, is that Android and Google are not the same thing. This is the basis of what is called a “Google Experience” device. An Android device that launches with the full set of Google Mobile applications is a Google Experience phone. It is very Google-centric, coming preloaded with Google Search, Maps, Gmail, YouTube, Calendar, Talk – and any other Google services that can be packed in there. But a manufacturer doesn’t have to go with all of those Google products. It can just take the Android OS, and let users download whatever apps they like from the Android Market.
And that is the centre of the problem. Phone makers who want to have the Google suite of applications on their devices have to pay for the Google Experience. Android may be open, but the Google Experience is most definitely not. And Steve Kondik was packaging the Google Experience applications free with his CyanogenMOD.
What Google thinks?
Legally, Google has Kondik bang to rights. A Google developer posted a carefully worded blog on the Android Developers website, explaining Googles actions. Android, he explained, was created because Google found it was difficult to get its mobile applications onto peoples devices. So Google founded the Open Handset Alliance and created Android. This completely open operating system that would allow developers to publish their apps and services much more easily. The Google mobile applications were never open source. And Google is not pleased to see an independent developer packaging its closed applications for free. Google seems to be somewhat contrite in this entire thing. The company acknowledges that Kondik is a good developer and that CyanogenMod was a good mode, but maintains that “unauthorized distribution of [closed] software harms us just like it would any other business, even if it’s done with the best of intentions.”
What the developers think?
Google may have the legal high-ground, but it has shot itself in the foot when it comes to developer trust. A huge part of the drive for Android was that it had fostered a large community of developer-fans – people who created brilliant mods like Cyanogen for the operating system out of pure enthusiasm. It was an open, trusting developer community. And the vast majority of the anger that has been seen since last Friday has come from that community. They feel betrayed. So much so, that one of Androids own developers sent a Twitter asking if any other OS developers were hiring! More than one is asking why this has happened now. CyanogenMod was allowed to get to version 4 before it was C&Ded – so why now?
A good theory is “precedence”. By allowing a modder to continue to bundle the Google Experience for free, Google was setting a dangerous precedent for mobile manufacturers whose only payment to Google is for their application suite. This could have opened a whole mess of proprietary and fair-usage issues for Google, and denied them a huge chunk of licensing fees.
One of the posters on the xda-developers forum, Daveid, suggested a compromise: “what would it take for Cyanogen to become a licensed distributor of Google’s Apps for Android? If there are really 30,000 users, couldn’t legal fees be gathered from them? And, couldn’t the business license be set up as a Not-For-Profit? Like the Association of Cyanogen Followers? If it were, wouldn’t the required fees to license the distribution rights of the software be tax-free and operating expenses for the association? Meaning, any costs for running the business could be taken out of membership dues and donations? With the rest being tax write-offs?”
What we think?
Ultimately, Google is in the right in the Kondik case. The problem is the way in which it handled it. As a company that like to present itself as fuzzy and friendly, this was a serious stone-cold corporate move. It was a ham-fisted blow to the face of the developer community. I can only imagine that this happened as a sort of automatic function of the legal department. Steve Kondik has proven himself to be open to discussions about how he can make CyanogenMod legal – but Google should have entered into those discussions before the C&A. The major competition point between Android and iPhone is it’s openness. Slowly but surely, Android apps were beginning to catch up on iPhone apps. There are a much wider variety of Android devices available than Apple phones, with a good spread of price and functionality. By damaging it’s appearance of openness, Google only has itself to damage.
Then again, this is probably going to be another one of those stories that causes a load of fuss and then blows over, never to be heard of again. Bets?
Image © Michael FitzPatrick