Skip to main content

Is Free Software really Free? (A case of Google Android and Java)

Update: Google has open sourced Android and I will take back what I said. If you still wish to read the post, you may do so.

A lot of people have asked me why anybody would want free software, because there is no support or commercial licensing usually. Let me define what free is supposed to mean: "The freedom given to a user to execute the program; to modify the source code, compile and execute the modified program; to be able to redistribute the modified source code and the modified program."

We are not here to discuss if everybody is giving you a false free software promise, or if being "good" is essential for our life, but only to discuss a particular false software promise by organizations like Sun and Google.

Let us take a classic example: the Java platform. While Sun has been (for years) trying to free Java, they still can't push in just enough to make it completely free. And when they did GPL their OpenJDK (which at the moment, is probably mostly unhindered except for the SNMP provider), Google decided that vendors should be given enough choice to "lock in" on their implementations, and based their DalvikVM off Apache Harmony.

Not that I don't respect Apache, but partially the reason they came up with their VM was because Sun wasn't really going to give away their Java without a fight from competitors. And when they sensed a threat, Sun were like, "we wanted to free Java for a long time. Freedom to the masses. Yay!". Nobody bought it. The real reason Sun didn't want to free Java was probably not because it wanted the community to fork, but because they wanted to keep it to themselves and all the monopoly that came with it.

Now it is Google's turn. While Google says it is part of an "Open Handset Alliance", it hasn't made the specification for the DEX format and source code for the DEX compiler open yet. And the vendors wouldn't be expected to reveal it, either. Google doesn't want to go the Sun way of JavaME either, although as of now, "PhoneMe" is supposedly a free implementation. So what does Google do here? "Lock in" Android applications from being accessed by everybody.

Is Google really going open with Android? I don't think so.

So when openness is a question, where do we expect to find the freedom we discussed above? And how do users expect to run applications in a closed platform locked in by vendors who claim to be "open"? The answers are: "nowhere" and "there is no way".

One suggestion for users is that they should protest against these platforms and say: "Hey, we aren't going to buy your mobiles unless you tell us everything about it. Are you living up to your open promise or was it just false marketing on your side?"

Comments

Muthu Ramadoss said…
Google had said they would opensource Android after the launch later this year. We'll have to wait and see.
guilt said…
We can only hope they do. Also important is that they create a specification and release it.

That would make sure they don't control the platform.
friarminor said…
I can't remember if ever there was a time when putting pressure worked to open locked platforms. But it did lead to alternatives and for community to step up and take matters into their own hands.

Oh, I guess there are some like SUN but they waited until it mattered not anymore.

Greed most is under the guise of right.

Best.
alain
guilt said…
@friarminor:

I completely agree.

Popular posts from this blog

Act Right Now. Or It's Goodbye.

Right now we have an Ebola Pandemic that is exploding and doubling its victims every month. At this rate, everyone will be dead by 2016. Unless we contain it.


Why? There were ~2000 victims a month back. Now there are ~6000. It is estimated that there will be about 20000 victims by November, and about a million people by January. There is no easy cure for Ebola.
What is Ebola? Ebola is a viral disease, like the common cold. Except it's fatal.
It lives within the infected person to multiply, and spread. It multiplies within the infected person and kills the infected person. The infected person bleeds out and dies.


Ebola is spread through contact with the infected person's body fluids - Blood, Slot, Sweat, Semen, Saliva or anything that has traces of the person's infected DNA.
How did it all Start? It is believed that the virus spread from people eating an animal which carried the virus. Although we cannot be sure, it could have been a fruit bat. Fruit bats can carry Ebola,…

Staring into the Abyss

Automation is the new buzzword. People are losing jobs like crazy. The hunger games have started  and now everyone is being forced to feed the croniest capitalists in the world. The beautiful gig economy has lost its sheen and has turned into nothing but a mere bargaining game in every market.

So where does that leave us? Into the abyss of irrelevance.


The abyss of irrelevance: Where many people need not work, many people need not apply and yet they will be forced to work because most common resources would have been squatted on by the rich and the powerful.

For every economy that needs a person to make and sell, we have a machine. But who is going to buy it? Another machine?

Is Communism is going to show it's head again? It will be interesting to watch.

Computing Freedom

DRM. Digital Rights Management. The one word that's meant to protect the rights of the publisher, at the cost of the consumer. It is a scheme that employs cryptographic measures to prevent people from copying/distributing media content, especially music.
What DRM can do for you:
You'll be asked to Pay-per-use of music, video, software that you already bought.Allows the content producer to disable your rights to the published content through hardware measures, including permanent hardware disability, any time they wish to. Which means the music you bought, or the DVD your purhased may not be usable tomorrow, whenever the producer decides to do so.Discourages indie content publishers from making content, because of the royalty involved. Which means sending people the video you shot or the music you composed or the software you wrote could cost you a fortune.Curbing the freedom of the consumer, and milking him, by pushing him to pay a lot of money for a commercial service, though …