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Google Clarifies Open Aspects Of Android

The search giant has halted distribution of the Cyanogen custom Android build with proprietary apps like Gmail and Google Maps.

While the Android mobile operating system is open source, some of its most appealing features like tight Gmail integration and Google Maps are not, Google said in a blog post.

The search giant faced some criticism last week when it ordered developer Steve Kondik to stop distributing a custom build of Android because it utilized closed-source applications like Gmail and Google. The Cyanogen Android ROM had become popular among Android tinkerers because it added many new features from the Donut build, and it also enabled sharing a phone's cellular data connectivity with a computer.

Google said it's "thrilled" to see the enthusiasm from developers, but Kondik violated Google's license when he included applications like Gmail, Google Maps, and YouTube with his build.

"These apps aren't open source, and that's why they aren't included in the Android source code repository," Google said on the Android developer's blog. "Unauthorized distribution of this software harms us just like it would any other business, even if it's done with the best of intentions."

At first, Kondik said he thought the move would have a "chilling effect" on the Android community because the deep ties to Google's online services are a major selling point of the Linux-based OS. But the developer has changed courses, and said he plans to release a "bare bones" version of the ROM that can handle normal phone functionality without Google's apps. Some in the developer community said Google is violating the spirit and goals of Android, but Kondik is a bit more sympathetic.

"I'd love for Google to hand over the keys to the kingdom and let us all have it for free, but that's not going to happen," Kondik said in a written response. "And who can blame them?"

In response to the Cyanogen flap, a group of developers have created the Open Android Alliance with the goal of creating open source alternatives to Google's apps that can be included with future custom Android builds.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on why businesses shouldn't shrug off Google's upcoming Chrome OS. Download the report here (registration required).

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