How Could Android Ever Be Considered “The Evil OS”?


When we think about Android, we often see it as the greener grass beyond the lucrative fence separating the dark and gloomy farm from the healthy-looking fields of grass, trees, and colorful selection of flora growing about. I understand that everyone may not buy into Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” mantra as easily as others – and I get that it might not even ring true in everything that Google as a company does – but I’m finding it rather difficult to imagine how Android, of all other Google entities, could be considered evil.

Andreas Constantinou – a research director for VisionMobile Ltd. – voiced his opinion on the open nature of Google’s mobile OS on the company’s blog today claiming that “…Android might be the most closed system in the history of open source.” That one line in and of itself is more than enough reason for me to warrant a response to his opinion.


Alluding to Android’s success, Andreas outlined three “key” factors that spring-boarded the OS to where it is now: Apple, Qualcomm, and the carriers for which the phone exists. Specifically for Apple, every manufacturer’s dream to introduce the next proverbial “iPhone killer” makes Android the obvious route for the software that powers their hardware. Fine, we’ll accept that.

Next is carrier support. Network operators – such as Verizon and Sprint – coordinate with handset manufacturers – like HTC – specifically asking for more Android products to beef up their selection. The goal is to minimize costs while increasing interoperability and relatively fast concept-to-market turn-around driven by exclusive deals. Is any of this sounding ridiculous to you yet?

Finally, Andreas credits the third and final key to Qualcomm for creating a platform that supports Android out of the box – a move that should make sense in a world that quickly realized Android as the defacto third-party operating system for the future of the smartphone (and smart device) market.


These are all great points, but it almost sounds as if Andreas was using them against Android’s credit – almost as if it’s a bad thing that Android makes life easier for the guys that push it to the end user. Fortunately, he was just stepping up to a much bigger splash: Google and their ‘droid is more evil than RIM, Apple, Nokia, Microsoft, or Palm could or ever will be with their respective products.

The reasoning – which is the ridiculous part – is that Google merely “emulates” an open platform while pulling sheep’s wool over the eyes of everyone involved.

What’s even more fascinating is how closed Android is, despite Google’s do-no-evil mantra and the permissive Apache 2 license which Android SDK is under. Paraphrasing a famous line from Henry Ford’s book on the Model-T, anyone can have Android in their own colour as long as it’s black. Android is the best example of how a company can use open source to build up interest and community participation, while running a very tight commercial model.

Taking a quick look at the definition of “open source” provided to us by the Open Source Initiative – who is highly regarded as the authority in what “open source” is – I have to present the question: where is Google stepping outside of any lines to call Android so? Source code is readily available, compilable, downloadable, freely distributed, properly licensed, free to be modified (for use with any field without discrimination), and it definitely isn’t an OS that is restricted to be used on anything other than phones.

Instead, Andreas decides to attack Google’s admittedly closed process for Android’s official commercial fork. Not many users realize that the Android Open Source Project differs greatly from what we see in our mobile devices and the “versioned” updates that we expect OTA on those devices. While I’m not completely knowledgeable on Google’s reasoning, you have to imagine that they have very solid reasons for closing off certain parts of what they do with Android from the outside world.


I find it hard to believe that any OEM would allow a piece of software on their phone that isn’t developed with a carefully gated atmosphere: the methods that the responsible developer (in this case, Google) use to ensure that the software is safe, practical, and optimal for every day use could be a very private matter that should not extend outside of their company.

Let’s not forget that Google is still very much a corporation: they’ll never have goals and the practices to reach those goals that everyone will agree with. I respect Andreas’ comments regarding Android – and I appreciate that he at least acknowledges Android’s success and the factors that contributes to it – but if Android is considered evil by the definition of your 8-pronged list, then it’s just ludicrous to put Google or Android beneath any other mobile operating system or its vendors.

Is Android completely open source? That’s up to how you see it. Google designed it as a system that you can plug various components into, and some of those components that Google has a hold over just happens to be closed off to us common folk. By definition alone, Android is everything that Google said it would be, and you can’t take anything away from them because of that.

If you want to read Andreas’ full piece, head over to VisionMobile‘s corporate blog.

Quentyn Kennemer
The "Google Phone" sounded too awesome to pass up, so I bought a G1. The rest is history. And yes, I know my name isn't Wilson.

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  1. I’d agree with this article in that Android is certainly one of the most closed “open source” projects out there. The Android team even operates with the difference between Android and AOSP (Android Open Source Project).

    Sure you can download AOSP, but it lacks most of the components that one would consider a complete Android phone. Also you’d be getting very old code as Google works in a private internal repository that is lightyears ahead of AOSP. Try to improve something and submit it back to Google and you are more than likely to be met with a “we’ve already made a similar change in our internal repository, so we’re not going to include your patch and sorry you wasted your time developing something we already developed privately”.

    If you download it and compile it, you can’t get your modified compiled image to legally run on a phone easily. Certainly you have to choose an ancient ADP device that doesn’t even officially support the most recent AOSP version. Also you are missing a bunch of proprietary drivers to make it work at all.

    So you have no visibility on recent development. Contributing anything non-trivial is exceptionally difficult. Even tinkering on your own developer device isn’t fully supported.

    But to say that it isn’t very open isn’t to say that it is evil. Simply Android is a Google product, and not a community product. Which is not a statement of Good or Evil.

  2. I’ve only checked out the Android source once and haven’t kept up with it so I have a couple of questions. If the commercial fork is light years ahead of what’s publicly available then where do the custom ROM makers get their code? How do they backport features…where do they come from? How do they get the apps that are not supposed to be redistributed? Something doesn’t seem to add up.

  3. The article is not as extreme as it’s portrayed to be here. But it still seems like an author’s cry for attention.

  4. @#2
    they dump ROMs from other phones

  5. doh, continued from above…

    It’s been done this same way for years with WinMo devices.

  6. I think it’s pretty similar to TIVO- the OS is linux but you can’t just take the linux OS, compile it and run it on a pc and have a DVR. the OS is open and any changes they make to that are wide open. But the apps on top are clearly proprietary. it’s not rocket science.

  7. @Mike
    To be devils advocate, you can with Boxee, XMBC and others. But I am being cheeky here. You have a very valid point. This all errupted over the proprietary apps.

    This is similar to many commercial versions of open source products. They have an added “something” which is a value added benefit to warrant paying for it.

  8. I have to agree with Phandroid on this one. I read this article myself earlier today, and I found it to be a bit over-reaching in its claims of malice. For Google to release all of the code on their most current version of Android would be a poor business choice. But, hey, it certainly got his article noticed.

  9. Well, I think it’s unrealistic to have something that is truly open source and be able to maintain a competitive advantage.

  10. lol this guy is a moron. He probably pitched Google a research project and got told to piss off.

  11. At the very least, the Market is more open than that of iPhone’s. At least for right now.

  12. @ME

    Can you elaborate? I don’t have a very good understanding of that type of thing.

  13. I guess some of you who are replying are idiots and haven’t familiarized yourselves with a little project called cyanogenmod. It’s based on the Android open source project repo, and is actually miles ahead of any currently released update, either ota or otherwise. It’s true that the Android source does not contain a few proprietary Google apks, but legal almost transparently easy workarounds have been coded to fix this.

    And true Android Rom developers don’t just take another android Rom and splice it together with bits and pieces or other roms. That process (which does deserve recognition) is better refered to as ‘rom porting’

  14. Just like Ibm and then microsoft, were considered “evil” and now Apple, your kids will think Android and Google “evil” because they are big, make money and more importantly to the younger generation, you, the parents, use it.

    It is just a matter of who is next on the list…you know, the who do we hate today type thing, wheres the rebellion, I want to join the crowd.

    Not everyone likes Android, not everyone likes Apple. Htc may join the fray too with their own OS, will they be evil or good? Who decides and why? What about rim, are they evil? Google collects more private info on people from all over the world then apple ever will. Most here have no idea what they are doing or will do with that info. Apple may be closed and narrow, but not evil.

  15. Don’t like what Google is doing with Android? Fork it.
    Don’t have the right to distribute their closed bits? Write your own replacements.
    Don’t want to play in the Google sandbox? Go and build your own (like Apple, MS and RIM).
    Are they completely open in all ways with the Android OS? Nope. But the fact that you can not only freely use the code but you can fork the code, puts them in a squarely different camp than companies like MS, Apple, and RIM.
    You might be able to argue that they aren’t “less” evil as everyone else, but if anyone wants to insinuate they are “more” evil because they don’t have every little piece open, that’s just absurd.

  16. @Dogsby

    Custom ROM makers take the ROM from one Android device, dump it to their pc hdd, modify/rebuild it and install them to the same or another Android device.

  17. @ME
    That’s what I was figuring, thank you.

  18. I love Android but I agree with this man’s comments completely.
    He also never said it was evil, you are putting words into his mouth.

    I actually think it’s perfectly realistic to be competitive with open source. The whole point to be open source is to be open, you are adding closed source principles into open source.

  19. For me the simple fact of the matter is, yes Android is closed source when you get it to a phone. But I don’t really care, I wan’t Googles applications, and I can understand that they don’t want to open source them because it’s just asking for bad things to happen to their services.

    But Android is open source to the point that when I go out and buy a tablet, I can play around installing a linux kernel, find some working drivers and then attempt to add Android on top of this.

    Android is a very successful open source project that generates profit for companies. This is the key thing, most open source projects don’t generate money. Google knows this and thats it.

  20. @ME

    They are not dumping ROMS to create new modified images (some very custom hacks like running Desire on the Nexus One are based off dumps). Most of the custom ROMS are based off AOSP, Cyanogen for example which I use is based entirely off AOSP and runs beautifully with many tweaks and updates added in by the community.
    Telco’s and Handset manufacturers need a closed protected system so that they can have a controlled user experience, google adheres to this however they let us, if we want, to do anything with the phone by simply rooting it, can we really ask for more in a capitalist world – their making money, appeasing other corporations and letting us the consumer choose how to use our phone…

  21. Since in the end, this is being used to power consumer devices with the capability of running or ruining their lives. Bank apps come to mind as an example. Google is adding controls to keep private user data private. Anybody can compile an android kernal with the slight addition of a key logger or any other kind of Malware and then your screwed.

    By nature Google has to control some things to ensure the consumer is not harmed by their device. If that means closing off some code, fine by me.

  22. Well the quotes themselves are correct, and not necessarily damning.

    Google is quite correctly characterized as “Open source when it’s good for them”. Luckily that normally means open source where it counts.

    Aka: Chromium
    Chrome OS
    Android SDK

    Google is playing by the carrier’s rules. I bet Google would just be thrilled if they could allow free wifi tethering on a 3G network, but it isn’t going to happen. From what I can tell, the only reason we can’t cache Google maps for navigation is because of these carriers pressuring Google.

    Lastly, I’d like anyone to point out a corporation who runs only open source that has nearly the fraction of reach that Google has. That company doesn’t exist. There are tradeoffs.

  23. Why is needing to make a profit from you work considered “evil”? Open source is not much of a sustainable profit maker (just check out the Revolution OS documentary and see what happens to the one company that invested heavily into it – they are not around any longer) – especially in an industry which is really like a great white shark when it comes to pulling in cash – the mobile industry. What’s not to like here? Google creates Android OS, opens up its code enough so most any company can use it, but still has a few bits of their own that are proprietary that they can license if they want them. Nothing wrong IMO there – they arent forced to use it after all – they are given a choice, which is you watch that documentary I mentioned above, is what Open Source leaves you with, a choice..and that’s really the whole point of OS

  24. I’m having a hard time understanding ROM dumping. Are they reverse compiling? Because they are heavily modifying these ROMs. Maybe I’m misunderstanding whats being modified here. I’m also at a loss as to how modders actually report on upcoming features based off what they see committed to branches in the source tree. Again I recall some features being back ported from there. And you mean to tell me they are doing all of this with binaries?

    I also believe once again there seems to be a small segment of the FOSS world hell bent on targeting Google until they get the source for their Linux mods.

  25. I think the guy’s real problem is not that Android isn’t as open as he would like, but that Google’s trying to make money at all. He’s probably some bitter Marxist who can’t stand any company that doesn’t just give away any and all fruits of its labor. I totally agree with @Brad.

  26. I think this whole article is absolutely full of crap. For anything open source to truly survive & be successful, it has to make money. People have to buy things, bills have to be paid, doctors don’t cure people for free out of the kindness of their heart, & Steve Jobs doesn’t give away Apple products for free. There are the pure FLOSS & Open Source advocates who want everything free & open. Unfortunately, this model has been a complete & utter failure in computing. Who still dominates the top spots in computers? Microsoft & Apple. The same guys who did 5, 10, & 15 years ago. The open & free model ideology in the real world simply doesn’t work. However, in order to be successful, you are going to have to somethings that contradict an open source philosophy. Nothing is an absolute, perfect, or crystallized in such a way that it fits a Utopian concept. The rubber has to meet the road & Google is doing the best they absolutely can to make sure open-ish source of Android works. Where this guy’s article falls apart? Suggesting that Microsoft & Apple are more “open” of the Google. That’s just pure comedy. Just try to access, modify, re-assemble, & redistribute any Microsoft or Apple code. Just ask Psystar. Not only did Psystar get sued into oblivion by Apple, they have nothing to sell on their websites. Apple & Microsoft are way too closed to be open. Andreas Constantinou deserves the Epic Fail article of 2010, for this absolutely bogus article.

  27. “Google works in a private internal repository that is lightyears ahead of AOSP.”

    This is pretty ridiculous. The most recent Android version, 2.1, is available as source code in the AOSP, and people are using it to build their own versions of Android. Yes, Google does do a fair amount of work on the next release in a private branch, but this has consistently been made available in the open source project. Also an increasing amount of work is being done directly in the open source tree — for example development tools are now done there.

    As far as proprietary bits — this pretty much consists of code interacting with Google services (contacts sync, Gmail, etc) or drivers for particular hardware whose code Google does not own. Is Google not allow to build on top of Android proprietary applications for their services, because they were generous enough to give away all of the work on the Android platform?

  28. I don’t know about Android being evil, but the politics of Google certainly is. The CEO of Google is as much of a socialist as Obama is. Google grips at China for censorship but the CEO of Google doesn’t see anything wrong with controlling what news you see.

  29. If Android wasn’t open, then how would I be able to root my myTouch to get Android 2.1 whenever I feel like it? Or get the Sense UI?

  30. andreas
    ise malaka!

  31. I tried to update my phones software with an up to date mod of the android os and found that somebody (rogers) had locked out this update even though the old software was buggy and needed to up upgraded.

    This is a closed system but it isn’t android fault its just rogers doing stuff and google not stopping them.

  32. @scott

    What are you talking about? Google does not control what news you can see. They may report on what they see to be important on their website but even on a google branded android phone you can easily access any website you want to and view the news you want.

    I use an android phone and I never have to use google services if I don’t want to. I don’t have to use the market, gmail, google search or maps. They make it simple to use but I can go to yahoo or microsoft or aol.

    As to the android os and open source, Google has some apps and services that are not a part of the android os. They have a right to protect those items and that includes the code they write to integrate those services with android.

    The android os is open source. The apps and services provided on top of the os by google or third parties are not required to be open source.

    This should be an easy concept to understand. If I opened a flea market and did not charge booth rental (open source) just come in and set up at an empty booth and sell your products. I would still be able to sell products from my own booth and not be required to give them away.

    Some people seem to think that because google made android os open source that they should give away the whole company. What do you think?

  33. Scott,

    Really the politics of Google don’t figure here, and unfortunately Apple and MS have a similar political outlook as well.

  34. As far as Open Source and such, OS has a big problem (and always will) that especially in the world of mobile devices is death. And that problem is the need for standards.

    As much as I hate the iPhone for its limitations and poor network, I have to give Apple kudos for locking things down so that third party developers cannot mess up performance or the user experience too badly (although if they really let third parties multitask that could change).

    Android has an additional challenge, which is OEMs putting the OS on second rate hardware. Add in customizing and you are already seeing Android start to fracture a little (for example Sense UI versus stock UI versus OEM UI 123). While we as power users want phones we can play with extensively, giving the carriers and OEMs too much leeway can wreck the brand (ask Windows Mobile).

    IMHO, Google needs to at the very least attach minimum hardware requirements on its Android (they can’t on the full Open Source version).

  35. Finally, someone who sees the big picture, not just blindly follows the marketing BS. I’m talking about the VisionMobile guy.

  36. one wacko dude yells out “help! they want to kill the iPhone!” and before you know it, everyone hates Google..

    I cannot believe that anyone could hate a company that is providing software and location based services FOR FREE.. yet this is what’s happening, un-frickin-believable!

    @Scott: “bu.. bu.. their politics are evil.. their CEO controls what he wants you to see”.. WTF dude??.. stop whatever it is you’re smokin and get out of the back of that unmarked van and get some fesh air! Jeez..

  37. I think one problem with the Open Source community in general is that there’s a portion of it that will define anything not totally and completely open as “evil”. This is a religion, not a practical thing, as bad for Open Source as Apple’s religion on total control ultimately will be for the iPxx machines.

    The phone makers and Telcos are the primary beneficiaries of Google’s Open Source approach, not the end users. And that’s the intention. Google’s plan here was simple, and of pure commercial interest, with excellent side-effects for phone makers, telcos, and we users. They saw that their bread & butter, “search” and related internet things, were and would increasingly be moving to mobile devices. If you have a smartphone or tablet computer, you’re not going to the PC for search as much. And, before Android, every successful platform was closed source (Symbian went open source, but after Android) and could easily lock out the default search engine. Thus harming Google.

    To win the handset, Google really had to figure out what the phone manufacturers wanted, and make that their first priority. Android solves that first. It’s open source, thus, they get all the source code needed to deliver the phone, and they can make any customizations they like. And there’s no $10 per handset to Microsoft, and drastically reduced internal development costs (or, perhaps, more productive internal development, since they can unify behind Android for much of the product line and only spend programmer time on their custom bits).

    The fact is, you can get the Android source yourself, but that’s really a side-effect of the project being open source. And the closed-source apps, from Google or whomever, those are a necessary part of a healthy software infrastructure. Google is certainly getting some money for some of these pre-installs, it’s optional, but the more profitable Android is for Google, the better they’re likely to work for it in the long run.

    The thing about Android — there’s no “magic” available to Google, nothing like Apple’s special position in iPhoneOS. Any app they deliver, someone else could. So anything that’s not an easy download from the Marketplace could be replaced by fully open source apps, should anyone be interested enough to work on these. I mean, GNU/Linux re-created all of UNIX, substantially more code than the few apps in this class.

    There is nothing about this that allows the kind of evil you get from Apple these days. And it’s not as if Apple’s just recently turned evil… they were evil going back to the dawn of the Mac days. It’s just that people not in the industry didn’t notice as much…. evil on the Mac was more the way they treated developers, tech partners, fan sites, etc.

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