Let us Settle this Whole Open/Closed Argument

Lately the conversations regarding whether Android is Open or Not are starting to become...well completely irrational, so I figured lets us try to break this down a fashion that makes sense to everyone.

The Definition of Open Source


Denoting software for which the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified.

-Google Search ("Define Open-Source")


In production and development, open source as a development model promotes a) universal access via free license to a product's design or blueprint, and b) universal redistribution of that design or blueprint, including subsequent improvements to it by anyone....

Generally, open source refers to a computer program in which the source code is available to the general public for use and/or modification from its original design. Open-source code is typically created as a collaborative effort in which programmers improve upon the code and share the changes within the community.

The Open Source Initiative:


Open source doesn't just mean access to the source code. The distribution terms of open-source software must comply with the following criteria:

1. Free Redistribution

The license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing programs from several different sources. The license shall not require a royalty or other fee for such sale.

2. Source Code

The program must include source code, and must allow distribution in source code as well as compiled form. Where some form of a product is not distributed with source code, there must be a well-publicized means of obtaining the source code for no more than a reasonable reproduction cost preferably, downloading via the Internet without charge. The source code must be the preferred form in which a programmer would modify the program. Deliberately obfuscated source code is not allowed. Intermediate forms such as the output of a preprocessor or translator are not allowed.

3. Derived Works

The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software.

4. Integrity of The Author's Source Code

The license may restrict source-code from being distributed in modified form only if the license allows the distribution of "patch files" with the source code for the purpose of modifying the program at build time. The license must explicitly permit distribution of software built from modified source code. The license may require derived works to carry a different name or version number from the original software.

5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups

The license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons.

6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor

The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.

7. Distribution of License

The rights attached to the program must apply to all to whom the program is redistributed without the need for execution of an additional license by those parties.

8. License Must Not Be Specific to a Product

The rights attached to the program must not depend on the program's being part of a particular software distribution. If the program is extracted from that distribution and used or distributed within the terms of the program's license, all parties to whom the program is redistributed should have the same rights as those that are granted in conjunction with the original software distribution.

9. License Must Not Restrict Other Software

The license must not place restrictions on other software that is distributed along with the licensed software. For example, the license must not insist that all other programs distributed on the same medium must be open-source software.

10. License Must Be Technology-Neutral

No provision of the license may be predicated on any individual technology or style of interface.

Open Source as Applied to Android

Android is an open-source software stack created for a wide array of devices with different form factors. The primary purposes of Android are to create an open software platform available for carriers, OEMs, and developers to make their innovative ideas a reality and to introduce a successful, real-world product that improves the mobile experience for users.


In Regards to Android Compatibility

Uncontrolled customization can, of course, lead to incompatible implementations. To prevent this, the Android Open Source Project also maintains the Android Compatibility Program, which spells out what it means to be "Android compatible" and what is required of device builders to achieve that status. Anyone can (and will!) use the Android source code for any purpose, and we welcome all legitimate uses. However, in order to take part in the shared ecosystem of applications we are building around Android, device builders must participate in the Android Compatibility Program.


Is compatibility mandatory?

No. The Android Compatibility Program is optional. Since the Android source code is open, anyone can use it to build any kind of device. However, if a manufacturer wishes to use the Android name with their product, or wants access to Google Play, they must first demonstrate that the device is compatible.Android the Brand

If my device is compatible, does it automatically have access to Google Play and branding?

Google Play is a service operated by Google. Achieving compatibility is a prerequisite for obtaining access to the Google Play software and branding. Device manufacturers should contact Google to obtain access to Google Play.

What does "compatibility" mean?

We define an "Android compatible" device as one that can run any application written by third-party developers using the Android SDK and NDK. We use this as a filter to separate devices that can participate in the Android app ecosystem, and those that cannot. Devices that are properly compatible can seek approval to use the Android trademark. Devices that are not compatible are merely derived from the Android source code and may not use the Android trademark.

In other words, compatibility is a prerequisite to participate in the Android apps ecosystem. Anyone is welcome to use the Android source code, but if the device isn't compatible, it's not considered part of the Android ecosystem.


Google Services in Relation to Android

Google offers a variety of services that help you build new revenue streams, manage app distribution, track app usage, and enhance your app with features such as maps, sign-in, and cloud messaging.
Although these Google services are not included in the Android platform, they are supported by most Android-powered devices. When using these services, you can distribute your app on Google Play to all devices running Android 2.3 or higher, and some services support even more devices


Folks seem to like to mix Google's Applications, namely called Google Apps, with Android the OS. Which is not the case. These two pieces are technically separate from each other. As an OEM you are not required to use Google Apps with Android, even though it would probably be in your best interest to do so.

So let us break it down...

Is Android the OS open source?Yes, it is a free license, available to anyone to modify use and distribute

Can anyone call their device an Android? No, Google owns the Android branding and requires OEM's to pass the Android Compatibility Program for to be able to call their device an Android Device. Howver, OEM's which do not do the testing can say their device runs Android's Apps. Amazon does this with the Kindle

Is Google Apps/Services part of Android Platform? No, however they can be included if an OEM wants to use them


From a consumer facing perspective devices like the Nexus run a Android an Open Source OS, with Google Services and Apps, which are proprietary closed Google services. Google version Android's is AOSP but with the following changes:

The addition of Play Services and the Play Store
AOSP Launcher replaced with Google Launcher
AOSP Browser replaced with Chrome
AOSP Camera replaced with Google Camera (Photosperes)
AOSP Gallery soon to be replaced with Photos
AOSP Messaging replaced with Hangouts
AOSP Dialer replaced with Google Dialer

Google takes the AOSP code, modifies it to work with their own proprietary apps and services and releases it on the Nexus. This is the reason why you son't go to Android.com to get binaries for the Nexus, you go to Google's Internal Android site, https://developers.google.com/android/

Sure What Consumers really want is Android with all the Google Stuff, and most consumers refer to Android the OS as the both Android and the included Google Apps. However, consumer ignorance does not negate the fact that the OS and the Google Apps are separate things. It is like Ubutun. Wwile Ubuntu is an Open Source OS, it does come with proprietary apps like UbuntuOne Music. However that doesn't take away from the Open Source nature of the OS.

I'm sure the likes of BogHog and iDontGetIt will argue, but this is not me stating an opinion, it is me stating fact based on what is on the actual Android site.

No provision of the license may be predicated on any individual technology or style of interface.