Google's Android 3.0 software, referred to as "Honeycomb," is intended to be the foundation of a wave of Android-powered tablets that aspire to challenge Apple's iPad and demonstrate that the post-PC era is at hand.
Though Honeycomb is already shipping on Motorola's Xoom tablet, and is expected to appear soon on devices from other hardware markers, Google believes Honeycomb isn't ready for public release as open source software.
"Android 3.0, Honeycomb, was designed from the ground up for devices with larger screen sizes and improves on Android favorites such as widgets, multi-tasking, browsing, notifications and customization," a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "While we’re excited to offer these new features to Android tablets, we have more work to do before we can deliver them to other device types including phones. Until then, we’ve decided not to release Honeycomb to open source. We’re committed to providing Android as an open platform across many device types and will publish the source as soon as it’s ready."
That last assertion, that Google is committed to Android as an open platform, is disputed by some, including Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Some disaffected developers are also voicing skepticism, noting that Android is only about a step away from open source projects that are open in name only. Restrictions imposed by carriers using Android and Google's legal action in 2009 against a developer who created custom ROM images for Android handsets using proprietary Google software haven't helped Google's open source cred.
The disconnect is that open source idealists view "open" as a binary concept -- software is either open or not. Google has, for better or worse, adopted a more nuanced definition in order to manage the complex Android ecosystem and to protect its own interests, despite what the head of Google's Android effort, Andy Rubin, says.
This has the unfortunate consequence of providing Google's competitors with ammunition. Openness deferred doesn't really cut it for a lot of people.
There's a parallel here with Google's oft cited motto, "Don't be evil." The expectation of purity arising from that declaration allows critics to suggest that any self-serving action or misstep represents hypocrisy and cancels any number of positive acts.
But Google's real problem isn't so much insufficient openness as it is incomplete code. Honeycomb, as befits its name, is full of holes. Google's engineers are no doubt as working as fast as they can.
But that's not fast enough to make headway against Apple, which has just lapped the competition with the iPad 2.