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.

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