We live in a time when 371,000 babies are born daily. This is minuscule when compared to 378,000 iPhones and 1.1 million PCs sold, and the 1 million Android devices that are activated daily. The rise of Android in less than 4 years of its release is shocking. While Android markets itself as free and open source, it must be understood and questioned – to what extent does Android respect the freedom of its users?
In the free software movement, software is developed which respects user’s freedom, so that they can find alternatives to software that doesn’t. In contrast, the idea of open source focuses on how to develop a code? It is about code quality and not freedom. Android – the operating system primarily for mobile phones – consists of a Linux kernel, some libraries, a Java platform and some applications. While the Linux kernel complies with the GNU General Public License, the Apache license on the rest of Android does not mandate source release.
There is no doubt that Android is indeed a major step towards an ethical, user-controlled, free-software portable operating system for phones, but there is still a long way to go. Although Android released source codes of the older versions, these still contain non-free binary blobs and are insufficient to run the device – which is one of the most important of the 4 freedoms under GPL. Also Android platforms use other non-free firmware, and non-free libraries. With Android gaining popularity at such horrendous pace, the threat of Google turning Android proprietary permanently someday, remains. There cannot be a bigger shock to the community than they, someday getting to know that the release of some Android versions as free software was temporary ploy to get community assistance in improving a proprietary software product. Let’s just hope – that day never comes.