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What will you do with Amazon's Kindle source code?

Amazon has released some of its Kindle software as open source, but don't expect any Kindle knock-offs to result from this decision.

Imagine you wanted to create the Kindle killer, a revolutionary e-book device that matched and improved upon its functionality. What would you do? Well, you could, Mission Impossible-style, break into Amazon's Seattle headquarters and carry off the source code for the Kindle, then copy and extend its functionality to create a competitive device.

Or you could simply download the Kindle's source code from Amazon.com, where Amazon has already released the source code to the Kindle.

In fact, as TechCrunch rightly notes, the Kindle source code has been available since 2007.

Given this fact, why haven't you been doing anything with it? Why hasn't Apple taken the code and built the Kindle's winning technology into the iPhone? Why did Sony bother developing its own e-book reader?

Well, not only is the code in question not directly related to the actual Kindle application experience, as Rod Begbie notes, but instead "just the GPL libraries used to power the Kindle software," but it's also somewhat beside the point.

Apple doesn't use the Kindle code because any e-book it releases will be based on its own design, operating system, etc. Same for Sony and, presumably, for you.

While source code can be useful for learning how to solve complex problems, the actual approach and deployment a developer chooses often precludes her from using someone else's source code, and particularly a big body of code like that used in the Kindle. It could prove to be more work tailoring Amazon's work than simply starting from scratch.

So, bravo to Amazon for living up to its commitments under the GPL and releasing some of the Kindle source code, but don't expect to release a Kindle-killer based on Amazon's code. Amazon has brand, hardware OEM relationships, and other strengths that make its Kindle source code valuable, attributes that you and I almost certainly lack.

Such things are arguably better barriers to competition than patents and copyright.


Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.