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Google's Android: Open source, closed doors

Google needs to be much more transparent in how it interacts with the open-source community, as its Android snafu shows.

It's not new to wrap open-source software in closed contracts. This is what Red Hat and others have done for years, and generally for very good reasons.

In similar manner, news has hit that while Google remains committed to open source with its mobile Android platform, it hasn't exactly been committed to an open process. To wit, Google has been providing its open-source Android SDK to a select few under non-disclosure agreements.

While most of the Android community was forced to use an outdated version of the SDK from February and were left to wonder if they would ever see another SDK release at all, a small assortment of 50 gagged developers were given priority access to much-needed improvements and bug fixes that Google has apparently been keeping secret. This revelation has compelled some to question the search giant's motives and wonder whether Google is really committed to making Android an equal-opportunity platform for enthusiast developers.

Mike Gunderloy is right to question Google's commitment to openness on the Android project, but this really is a matter of process, not open source. By making a splash around the open-source nature of Android, Google set the openness bar high. There's an expectation that process will follow source-code access.

I don't think Google should be accused of holding back from its community here. I just think the company needs to be much more transparent about why it's doing what it does. There are very good reasons to do a limited SDK release before releasing the code to a wider distribution. Google just needs to state what those are.