Google has ordered a custom Android developer to stop distributing his software because it includes the search giant’s proprietary applications such as YouTube, Gmail and Maps.
The programmer of the CyanogenMod ROM was served a cease-and-desist order because Google took issue with the software for modifying and distributing its applications.
CyanogenMod ROM is an Android modification created by developer Steve Kondik that offers all the same functions of the standard-fare mobile OS, but also provides bundled applications, faster runtime and additional features that can’t be found on conventional Android.
For example, CyanogenMod let users of the G1 smartphone run applications stored on the memory card, which wasn’t possible with the standard OS. Kondik claimed the mod has more than 30,000 users.
Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) does support custom Android builds, but clarified in a lengthy blog post on the incident that although the OS was issued to be modified and distributed, Google apps are not.
Google engineer Dan Morrill explained that the company spearheaded the development of the open source Android platform out of frustration with the slow pace of innovation in the mobile space. Once the platform won the interest and support of a broad array of users and developers, Google set about developing Android apps for its most popular services, such as YouTube and Gmail.
“These apps are Google’s way of benefiting from Android in the same way that any other developer can, but the apps are not part of the Android platform itself,” Morrill said.
Google variously distributes its proprietary apps through the Android Market or through business arrangements with other firms so they come preinstalled on handsets.
“Either way, these apps aren’t open source, and that’s why they aren’t included in the Android source code repository,” Morrill said. “Unauthorized distribution of this software harms us just like it would any other business, even if it’s done with the best of intentions. I hope that clears up some of the confusion around Goggle apps for Android.”
CyanogenMod’s developer seems to understand the move by Google.
“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. And who can blame them?” Kondik said in a blog post responding to the brouhaha.
He went on to say he will offer a “bare bones” version of the software that won’t violate Goggle terms. The new version will allow users to make calls, support MMS, take photos and so on but will without Google apps in the mix.
By press time, Kondik had temporarily complied with Google order and taken the CyanogenMod site offline.
Google declined to comment for this report beyond Morrill’s blog post.
Some industry watchers look to Android, now in version 1.6, dubbed “Donut,”, to deliver truly compelling experiences for smartphone users because developers have free rein in using it, therefore making more innovation possible than with proprietary formats. Many also look for it to shake up the wireless industry status quo by offering the developer community an affordable way to bring apps to market that isn’t mired in the red tape of any one company.
Right now, handsets that launch with the full menu of Google Mobile apps are called “Google Experience” smartphones, meaning they come preloaded with the company’s Search, Maps, Gmail, YouTube and Calendar products, and may get branded with a Google logo. If a manufacturer goes this route, it pays Google for the preloaded package. T-Mobile’s myTouch 3G, for example, is a Google Experience phone.
The other approach is to simply support the Android OS and let users download whatever Google mobile apps they want from the Android Market. Examples of that arrangement include the HTC Hero and Motorola Cliq Android smartphones.
In essence, it appears the crux of the issue with CyanogenMod is that Kondik was packaging the suite of Google Experience apps for free with his software.
Despite the response by CyanogenMod creators, some open source bloggers are taking issue with Google’s decision to serve a cease-and-desist order, saying that though Google is within its legal right to do so, it goes against the fundamental spirit of the open source community.
For example, a widely circulated bit of commentary among developers was the following tweet sent by Android developer Jean-Baptiste Queru, who is employed by Google: “To my Apple, Microsoft and Palm buddies: are you hiring to work on mobile stuff?”