If you haven't heard, there's been a bit of a dust-up today between Google and its throngs of Android phone users. If you have heard, chances are you heard it post-spin, where Google is painted as being this horrible evil dictator, violating the 'spirit of open source.'
That couldn't be further from the truth. Here's what's actually going on.
Google's Android phone platform is, in fact, an open source operating system. Any phone manufacturer who wants to license Android for use on their handsets can do so, completely free of charge -- but there are a few caveats. Anyone deploying an Android device has to choose between a few different Android packages, including the "with Google" option, which allows the manufacturer to use Google's good name to promote their device. However, the "with Google" package requires that you deploy all the software the way Google demands. No deleting GMail and including Hotmail instead, for instance.
If the manufacturer does want to remove GMail and include Hotmail, they can still totally do that -- they just can't use Google's name to advertise their product. Oh, and they also can't include some of Google's popular apps.
While the operating system is open source, some of Google's applications are not, and are rather restrictively licensed, giving Google a bit more control over how they are used. The idea is they don't want someone's crappy modified Android install soiling their good image.
Very soon after the first Android device's release, clever hackers figured out a way to bypass the security T-Mobile included on it, allowing them to install custom installs of Android, based on newer, better code than what the devices were originally shipped with. Sure, that newer code would eventually be handed out to all devices, but many of us nerds are rather impatient, and would rather use it now. Crashes and all. So a sort of "community" of hackers was born, eventually culminating in several really popular Android distributions that included all sorts of really awesome functionality that was either not "prime-time"-ready -- or was flat out barred from inclusion by the carrier. (In this case, T-Mobile.)
This has been going on for roughly a year now, and several people have risen and fallen as the de facto "ringleaders" in charge of assembling the components into updates that mere users can apply to their phones. Many of these updates happened to include all those applications that Google has specifically licensed to be only distributed by those that comply with their licensing demands, and today finally caught the ire of Google.
Google has sent a Cease & Desist letter to the maintainer of arguably the most popular of these Android distributions, citing his inclusion of applications to which he does not have the proper license for distribution as the activity that needs to be ceased. He's no longer able to include GMail, Google Maps, etc., in his releases, which arguably makes his builds extremely undesirable for most users.
As you might expect, people understand this licensing issue, and completely realize that it's not good to be in blatant violation of an application's distribution license. Just kidding! In actuality, people are going "ape shit," threatening to buy iPhones, yelling obscenities at Google, and being all-around poor sports about the whole thing.
"Google is violating the spirit of open source!" cry many.
Online petitions have been made. There's an "app" in the Google Market which is currently the most popular Market download of the day, that essentially demands that Google re-license these apps so that people can continue to use them however they want. Facebook groups demanding the same thing are thriving. Twitter has gone nuts.
There's a funny thing about the "spirit of open source," though: many, if not most, open source projects are licensed in such a way that the code cannot be used in commercial applications without following the requirements of the license. It is never OK for someone to violate the license. When, as invariably happens, some company does violate the license, people go nuts. Likewise, nobody ever expects to be able to include someone else's proprietary functionality in their open source app. Yet, in the "spirit of open source," Google should just throw out their licensing altogether so that these whiny, entitled, whineyfaces can continue to use them on a distribution of Android that won't, and cannot license them properly?
That's a bunch of crap. Google is in a bit of an awkward position, having angered a significant amount of its Android user-base, but they are completely in the right here. Does it suck? Yes. But should Google be expected to give away everything for free just because people have been using it illegally for a year? I'll leave answering that as an exercise for the reader.
(If you'd like to check your answer against the correct one, here it is: "No.")
UPDATE: Some are suggesting that Google's inclusion of proprietary apps in an open source environment is a bad thing. This may well be the case, but you knew about it before you bought an Android phone and/or started developing for the Android platform. You chose to accept that fact, and now you have to live with it. Google didn't suddenly remove the apps from the source tree and 'closed source' them; they were closed source from the start.
UPDATE: Someone made this silly Hitler-meme-video, effectively illustrating the attitudes of these whinyfaces: