Autore: ExtremeTech

Android fragmentation

A new clause in the Android SDK’s terms of service hints that Google’s open-source operating system might not be as free as developers, OEMs, and users might hope. This has led some bearded developers to claim that the Android SDK is now “proprietary.”

These concerns stem from a new clause that was recently inserted in the TOS, which prior to this hadn’t been updated since 2009. The clause reads:

3.4 You agree that you will not take any actions that may cause or result in the fragmentation of Android, including but not limited to distributing, participating in the creation of, or promoting in any way a software development kit derived from the SDK.

In short, this clause means that you can no longer fork Android — which is iffy, as one of the basic axioms of free, open-source software is that you can fork it at any time to create your own version. It is because of Android’s open-source nature that Amazon could take Android and create a modified version for its Kindle Fire devices. CyanogenMod, the Ouya game console — in a world where fragmenting Android is forbidden, neither should technically exist.

Even internally, Android fragmentation is rife

Even internally, Android fragmentation is rife

Now, in theory, the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) is still free and open source — but the Android SDK is the de facto tool for developing apps for every flavor of Android. By downloading the SDK, and then developing apps for an Android fork, are developers breaking the TOS?

In all likelihood this will come down to the interpretation of “fragmentation.” In the case of Google’s Android and Amazon’s Android, where apps developed for either platform are generally cross-compatible, Google probably isn’t all that concerned. Google is probably trying to stave off fragmentation that breaks compatibility, which would harm the whole ecosystem. For what it’s worth, you should still be able to download and build most of the SDK from source, potentially avoiding the new TOS. There are also alternative SDKs, like Replicant — though if you’ve already agreed to the new Android TOS, using Replicant would be verboden.

It is still a very odd move to lumber the SDK with such blatantly non-free language, though. I can’t really imagine Google prosecuting someone for breaking clause 3.4, or revoking a developer’s access to the Play Store — but then again, why would Google add the clause if it didn’t serve some purpose?

Now read: Google’s love affair with closed-open source