Google holds Honeycomb source code, says it's not ready for smartphones

Google will keep the source code for Android 3.0 ''Honeycomb'' to itself for the foreseeable future, the search giant has said.

BusinessWeek reported yesterday that Google had made the decision to keep Honeycomb closed-source - a first in the history of the Android platform - because it was designed for tablets and was not ready to be shoehorned onto smartphones by enterprising enthusiasts. The decision means only OEMs will have access to Honeycomb's source code for now.

Engineering vice-president and head of Android group Andy Rubin told the publication Google ''took a shortcut'' while designing Honeycomb, a shortcut that could make the software incompatible with smartphone hardware.

''We have no idea if it will even work on phones,'' he said, before adding that Android remained an open-source project.

A Google spokeswoman told Reuters there was no timeframe in place for when the source code would be released.

''We're committed to providing Android as an open platform across many device types and will publish the source as soon as it's ready,'' she said.

As expected, developers and tech bloggers hit out at Google following the BusinessWeek story, angry that the search giant had apparently turned its back on its promise of an open platform.

Dave Rosenberg, co-founder of open-source software provider MuleSoft told BusinessWeek Google's actions were an affront to ''hard-core open-source enthusiasts'' but said a company of Google's size should be expected to act in its own interests.

ZDNet's Christopher Dawson labeled the decision disappointing and said it laid serious doubt on Google's claim that Android was the ''Linux of mobile operating systems''.

''Unfortunately, that’s hardly a title they can claim when they close source code at their convenience,'' he said. Mr Dawson suggested Google release the code, but with a warning that Honeycomb may not work with smartphones.

''How about a caveat along the lines of, 'Hey, we know this is open source, so whatever you can do to get the cool UI enhancements and great features working on phones woud be much appreciated. We don’t recommend hanging your hats on it as a smartphone platform, but that’s just us.' It would probably offend open source sensibilities far less than closing the code when it makes good business sense for Google and its OEM partners,'' he said. Many Android enthusiasts would argue that getting Google's code to work on previously incompatible hardware is one of the most satisfying things about the platform.

But Mashable's Jolie O'Dell hosed down talk of an ''Androidocalypse'', saying the Honeycomb source code was hardly difficult to get a hold of.

''The Honeycomb SDK is still freely available for developing Android tablet apps. And the source code for Honeycomb is still available; it just isn’t publicly posted on the web for anyone to download. Anyone in the Open Handset Alliance can get the source code for Android 3.0. And any person working with Android tablets can contact Google directly, sign a licensing agreement (no fees required), and get the source code that way, as well,'' she said.

Google has indicated it will merge tablet and smartphone versions of Android in the upcoming ''Ice Cream'' release and is likely to open-source that code, she added.

''In short, Google is simply trying to prevent sloppy implementation of a slick OS. The company doesn’t want to see more gaffes like tablets running Froyo or earlier mobile OSes — and Google sees phones running Honeycomb as an equally inept implementation,'' she said.

Back on the other side of the fence, Daring Fireball's John Gruber kept his thoughts short and sweet.

''Guess we need a new definition of 'open','' he said.

Image Credit: intomobile.com

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33 Comments

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So Google took Linux open-source GLP licensed code, made some modifications and distributes them in binary form without sources.
Looks like GPL violation to me.

RealFduch said,
So Google took Linux open-source GLP licensed code, made some modifications and distributes them in binary form without sources.
Looks like GPL violation to me.

Don't confuse the Linux-based base layer which is available to anyone with a git client with the Google-created UI and services layer.

Like the article said, Ice Cream will be Froyo + Honeycomb, running on both smartphones and tablets.. so if Ice Cream is open sourced then there really is no issue here..

Google said not right now...but I am betting that eventually they will release the source code. Besides, it will be leaked or ripped from a device and make available to others.

I really don't care if they want to keep this closed source.
However, my biggest concern is fragmentation. Work on Ice-Cream or whatever it is, then work with phone makers and carriers to bring all Android handsets up to the same standard. Then go from there. This is where Android's biggest downfall is.

I don't give a monkeys what software my phone is running. I simply want it to do what a Smart Phone should and look nice, hence I chose HTC's Desire. If it was running Windows in exactly the same way then I wouldn't mind that either.

Mr Spoon said,
I really don't care if they want to keep this closed source.
However, my biggest concern is fragmentation. Work on Ice-Cream or whatever it is, then work with phone makers and carriers to bring all Android handsets up to the same standard. Then go from there. This is where Android's biggest downfall is.

Fragmentation is not a big issue as people like to make it out to be. Most users are running either 2.1 or 2.2 these days and a very low percentage runs 1.5 or 1.6.

sviola said,
Well, there goes one of the big "advantages" so often mentioned by Android fanboys when criticizing iOS and WP7.

Except that it's clearly still available for those who matter and will be available once touched up. I don't get what the big.deal is here, it will be released when ready. But other fanboys like yourself will lap this up. I also feel the term delayed is more accurate that closed source, no?

Hollow.Droid said,

Except that it's clearly still available for those who matter and will be available once touched up. I don't get what the big.deal is here, it will be released when ready. But other fanboys like yourself will lap this up. I also feel the term delayed is more accurate that closed source, no?


Agreed.

Hollow.Droid said,

. I also feel the term delayed is more accurate that closed source, no?

Doesn't really matter when the phone platform is closed.. Having to jailbreak a phone to install my own build just isn't worth it. iOS at least has updates down pat, I HOPE Microsoft can iron out there NoDo woes and streamline the process and with android, i gave up trying to follow that mess.

As long as the software selection is good, the OS has the features in demand and the headsets perform well, open source has little to do with my purchasing decision.

PC is much different.. i can build my own pc to my own spec and fart around with it without jailbreaking and i do.

sviola said,
Well, there goes one of the big "advantages" so often mentioned by Android fanboys when criticizing iOS and WP7.

No, that's just one of 'the' advantages. The big advantage is how much functionality it has. While it is laggy/ugly, it can do a lot of things that WP7 can't.

blahism said,

I HOPE Microsoft can iron out there NoDo woes and streamline the process and with android, i gave up trying to follow that mess.

With my Android phone I plug it in to my laptop, click update, wait a couple of minutes, and I'm upgraded. Whats hard to follow?
On the Desire it was check for updates from the phone, let it install the updates over the air, wait a couple of minutes, and done.
Are other Android phones so hard to update?

Teebor said,
Are other Android phones so hard to update?
It's more of a case of not knowing if you're getting an update, and/or not getting one at all. (Note, I'm quite happy with my Desire, but it is a little confusing)

sviola said,
Well, there goes one of the big "advantages" so often mentioned by Android fanboys when criticizing iOS and WP7.

Except, the code will be made available when google thinks it's ready

Hollow.Droid said,

Except that it's clearly still available for those who matter and will be available once touched up. I don't get what the big.deal is here, it will be released when ready. But other fanboys like yourself will lap this up. I also feel the term delayed is more accurate that closed source, no?

The most basic definition of "Open Source" is that "the source is available to anyone". At this point in time, Honeycomb fails to meet that definition. Even if Google release the source code tomorrow, Honeycomb is not "Open Source" today. And because Honeycomb is the latest version of Android, Android cannot be considered "Open Source" at this point in time (I agree that the older versions are open).

Btw, I'm not a fanboy. I think all of the modern mobile OSes are nice offerings and would use any of them anytime (although I have my personal preference among their UIs and don't like very much some of Apple's policies)

Edited by sviola, Mar 25 2011, 5:26pm :

geoken said,

No, that's just one of 'the' advantages. The big advantage is how much functionality it has. While it is laggy/ugly, it can do a lot of things that WP7 can't.

Well, by your line of thinking Symbian > Android > iOS > WP7. Afterall, Symbian has the most functionality out there. Functionality is always good, but it is not everything. I don't own neither Android, iOS or WP7, and acknowledge that they all are great mobile OSes and, although I have my preference among the 3, I don't have prejudice against any of them.

Subject Delta said,

Except, the code will be made available when google thinks it's ready

The most basic definition of "Open Source" is that "the source is available to anyone". At this point in time, Honeycomb fails to meet that definition. Even if Google release the source code tomorrow, Honeycomb is not "Open Source" today. And because Honeycomb is the latest version of Android, Android cannot be considered "Open Source" at this point in time (I agree that the older versions are open).

sviola said,

The most basic definition of "Open Source" is that "the source is available to anyone". At this point in time, Honeycomb fails to meet that definition. Even if Google release the source code tomorrow, Honeycomb is not "Open Source" today. And because Honeycomb is the latest version of Android, Android cannot be considered "Open Source" at this point in time (I agree that the older versions are open).

Btw, I'm not a fanboy. I think all of the modern mobile OSes are nice offerings and would use any of them anytime (although I have my personal preference among their UIs and don't like very much some of Apple's policies)


Then at any given time software in the middle of having new code written is not technically open source because it's not physically possible to always have the most up to date version of the source available. Sorry but your logic is retarded.

I'd also point out that simply because Honeycomb is version 3 of Android, does not make it the most current version of Android. There are versions of Gingerbread that are still being worked on by Google that are being released, such as 2.3.4. If you knew more about the Android OSP you would know this. Bunch of FUD being passed around.

Sounds reasonable. Totally understandable step on Googles side. But then again they don't seem to trust their developers much and if it really was as open as advertised, they should release the source anyways. But no, I see why they did that and am in favor of that decision.

instant.human said,
Sounds reasonable. Totally understandable step on Googles side. But then again they don't seem to trust their developers much and if it really was as open as advertised, they should release the source anyways. But no, I see why they did that and am in favor of that decision.

right now, everyone can download the latest snapshot.

I get where Google is coming from, but it undermines the philosophy and idea that has made Android, and open source, great.

If it wont work well on phones, then people wont make it work on phones. If they do make it work well on phones, then Google can use the community's awesomeness to make sure Icecream is even better.

Android's been psuedo-open source for a while. They've held back AOSP builds post-hardware release which means people like HTC couldn't start work on Gingerbread until some time after the Nexus S came out. It's not good.

Never expected Honeycomb to make it to Phones, I always thought we would see maybe one or two more iterations before the two merged in to a unified offering, so I am quite pleased to see that "Ice Cream" could be that offering already.

Whats with the Butthurt comment from John Gruber? he still sore his brother Hans got killed by McClane?
They are only witholding one version from general public release, they are not saying nobody can have it. You just need to ask as a developer/oem

I can see where google are coming from. If you really want honeycomb, lie to google and sign up as a tablet developer, leak it to the torrents.

Then hide in a bunker as google takes all of its infinite power to make your pitiful life misery.

Its googles code, they have no obligation to release it if they feel fit

Auzeras said,
ts googles code, they have no obligation to release it if they feel fit

I'm pretty sure they're required to by the GPL. Of course, companies have ignored it & gotten away with it in the past. (Hint: OSX is based on FreeBSD.)

MASTER260 said,

I'm pretty sure they're required to by the GPL. Of course, companies have ignored it & gotten away with it in the past. (Hint: OSX is based on FreeBSD.)

Actually they are only required to give the source code upon request. They are fulfilling that part fine. No violations at all.