Android Developers Blog: “It’s not ‘rooting’, it’s openness” [Semi Opinion]


When the Nexus One launched, it took a mere three words typed into the appropriate command line to root the device. Those words were “fastboot oem unlock”. If this were something that was unintentional, not only would it have been patched in a firmware update within hours, it would have never made its way onto Google’s next Developer’s Phone the Nexus S.

But it did, and will only solidify Google’s loyalty to the openness of Android. You may counter with “If they love ‘open’ so much, why didn’t they just ship it with root enabled?”. Valid point but the truth in the matter is that some people just need that protection from themselves. And to posses the knowledge and drive to download the necessary tool and type in the appropriate words provides enough of a barrier that if a user does it, they did it intentionally and know what they are getting themselves in to.

One of the reasons behind the Nexus line is to give 3rd party modders easy access to the guts of the Android OS and see where they can take it, without having to resort to exploits. After all, the heart and soul of the open source world is driven by the outside world; the ones who are not paid to deliver, but do it for the joy and hope that their contributions can make the world a little better.

While security will always be a concern no matter what operating system you are on (and I mean this), it isn’t a reason to go “walled garden” by any means:

Android has a strong security strategy, backed by a solid implementation. By default, all Android applications are sandboxed from each other, helping to ensure that a malicious or buggy application cannot interfere with another. All applications are required to declare the permissions they use, ensuring the user is in control of the information they share. And yes, we aggressively fix known security holes, including those that can be used for rooting. Our peers in the security community have recognized our contribution to mobile security, and for that, we are extremely grateful.

Cry “Havoc!”, and let slip the dogs of war!

[via Android Developer’s Blog]

Tyler Miller

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  1. Agreed… Just wish this “commitment” to openess carried over to carriers other than just T-Mobile (*cough* Verizon). Not everyone is, can, or wants to be on T-Mobile for various reasons.

  2. just like i said having root access is like being an administrator on a computer

  3. Isn’t it typically the handset manufacturers and carriers that lock these things anyway? Google just provides the OS. It’s the carrier that doesn’t want to get stuck supporting a device that’s been hacked to run faster than stock or it’s the carrier that wants to disable tethering so they can overcharge you for their commercial tether app.

    I think of these phones like a work PC. The IT department locks them down because they want to simplify troubleshooting and make things more predictable. They give you a limited account so you don’t install stuff or mess with system files. Still, I would not tolerate that on my personal PC and I don’t like it on my phones either. Basically it’s a liability thing and I get that. I’m fine with the risks but it’s a shame that they make it actively difficult to get a root account on some phones.

  4. Do carriers really think that we are buying our phones based on their Skin and bloatware?

  5. @jer,
    You are 100% spot on with your assessment. Unfortunately, because it is Google’s operating system and not Samsung, HTC Verizon or T-Mobile’s, it will always be Google catching the flack on how hard the carriers and manufacturers lock down the devices.
    Andy Rubin said it best, via his Twitter:
    the definition of open: “mkdir android ; cd android ; repo init -u git://android.git.kernel.org/platform/manifest.git ; repo sync ; make”

  6. All phone carriers are idiots (some slightly less than others, and some way more than others: AT&T)…and unfortunately it doesnt matter to a lot of users and so the minority (nerds, power users, tinkerers, etc) are left having to use exploits and things to be able to use our devices how we would like. I appreciate google’s stance on openness and wish carriers would embrace the same ideals.

  7. Quote: Pimpsttrong:

    Do carriers really think that we are buying our phones based on their Skin and bloatware?

    If you are running anything other than a Nexus One, or Nexus S, then you have pretty well proven the carriers correct, and you have chosen bloatware and skin over freedom.

  8. Isn’t the Galaxy S completely unlocked too? Unlike with some HTC devices I didn’t have to fiddle with perfect SPLs and stuff, everything just worked with a standard recovery file or Odin.

  9. @icebike: That’s bullshit. I chose my phone because it was inexpensive and okayish hardware and I don’t have a Nexus.

    @Pimpstrong Yes, we (as in most consumers) do.

  10. @icebike: I’m with @robbert. I didn’t choose to stay on Verizon. I have huge issues with AT&T and Sprint. And T-Mobile has been too snobby and won’t let me on their network without paying the full price of the Nexus S and going on their goofy Flex-Plan (even though I’ve been the uber-good model customer on Verizon). And since T-Mobile is the ONLY carrier that offers the Nexus line I’m not really given the choice to tell Verizon otherwise except to not own a cellphone.

  11. @icebike: It would seem that people (rightly so) will choose their carriers first and then their handsets. I stick with Sprint offerings because they are tied with T-Mo for lowest prices in my area and they have better coverage. I’m not about to pay $20-40 more per month just to have a slightly more “open” Android phone. Until that changes, I will keep getting whatever the current best Sprint phone is every summer and rooting it the day I get it.

  12. Sigh… if only all phone’s weren’t such a bisnatch to root…
    BTW, what’s up with the Behold 2 being on that list of “featured phones”? lol, actually, the majority of those…

  13. Wow….
    +1 for the Nexus S for that….lol

  14. @austin

    I understand where you are coming from, but you obviously don’t understand the difference between “Administrator” on Windows and “Superuser” on Linux. You are playing with two very different animals. Administrator on Windows has higher privileges than a Basic user, yes, but on Linux, Superuser has absolutely no limits. When you give the “sudo” command in Linux there is absolutely no such thing as “Access denied”. That is why most sensible people don’t run around as Superuser on their Linux boxes, because it is much safer to just “sudo” whenever they need to. You can do some serious damage with Superuser privileges. On Android “rooting” a phone is the exact same thing as gaining “superuser” access to your phone. It is very easy to screw something up with that kind of power, that is probably why carriers don’t want you to have that power.

  15. So which is better, n1 or nexus s? I mean this in terms of feel, usability, and overall look. In tech terms, nexus s wins, i know.

  16. Remember that Android is a version of Linux. Both the practice of enabling access to the root account and the kernel’s application isolation mechanism have been around for some time. The practice of using sudo (rooting if you will) is a operational protection, as well as a convenience for the user.

  17. This whole openness thing I wish Motorola would get it but alas I’m stuck with suckware(blur).

  18. @icebike: No N1 or NS doesn’t mean your phone isn’t rooted. I bought a G1 just to get it rooted, and then used it. I never used it on the standard UI.

  19. Sigh, this is the reason why I’m so hesitant to move from my OG Droid. Having root for nearly a year now and using so many different ROMs, getting updates well before everyone else (:cough: fiance) is just awesome. With the way phones are now locked down it’s scary. I’ve also been with Verizon for 8 years and don’t know if I could leave even though we’re living in the District and probably have great coverage with all the carriers.

  20. “If you are running anything other than a Nexus One, or Nexus S, then you have pretty well proven the carriers correct, and you have chosen bloatware and skin over freedom”
    Ot it means the Nexus One has old year old hardware and a smaller screen than some want. Even the Nexus S is behind the curve without a dual core Tegra chip and for some reason no SD card. Not to mention the fact that neither Nexus is available on all carriers.

    On the other hand, before I buy my Droid 1 replacement, I will make sure that it can be fully rooted.

  21. im with stupid. wait, im alone. i AM stupid.

  22. So if google wants openess as I think all here suggest. Then why was an app called Z4ROOT removed out of market place which is Google Owned.

  23. @ Chuck931, the app was removed because I think the carriers requested it be removed and because Google doesn’t want people rooting that don’t know what they are doing. The privileges that come with rooting also come with consequences if mistakes are made, and Google only wants people knowledgeable of rooting actually doing it. This app required little knowledge of rooting, and thus, people are more likely to screw up their phones not knowing what they are doing. Rooting isn’t especially hard, but Google doesn’t want an app in there that does it for people who don’t have a clue what rooting actually does.

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