Google, Acer and the Red-Headed Stepchild

Android may not be as fully open as many FOSS fans would like it to be, but the fact remains that it’s essentially the poster child for Linux’s success in the mobile world.

So it was with some dismay that those of us here in the Linux blogosphere looked on at the impromptu battle that sprang up recently between Google and Acer over Alibaba’s Aliyun OS.

For those who missed it, Google recently caused Acer to cancel the Chinese launch of its new CloudMobile A800 smartphone because of its disapproval of Alibaba’s operating system, which is apparently an incompatible Android fork offering pirated Android programs.

‘Don’t Expect Help’

“If you want to benefit from the Android ecosystem, then make the choice to be compatible,” Google’s Andy Rubin reportedly wrote. “It’s easy, free, and we’ll even help you out. But if you don’t want to be compatible, then don’t expect help from OHA members that are all working to support and build a unified Android ecosystem.”

Everyone knows Google’s slogan is “Don’t be evil.” Is this simply a case of a company protecting its platform, or has Google effectively crossed the line?

As per their wont, Linux bloggers have had no shortage of varying opinions.

‘Long-Term Trouble for Google’

“This is interesting, and it raises the specter of long-term anti-trust possibilities against Google,” opined Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, for example.

“If the contracts make it hard for new entries into the market, then Google ends up looking like a Microsoft-style monopolist,” Travers suggested.

“Granted, this case seems to have some interesting elements, like Google apps being available on the Aliyun marketplace,” he added. Still, “I think it is long-term trouble for Google.”

‘Every Bit as Nasty as Apple’

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet took an even stronger view.

“Can we PLEASE accept that ‘don’t be evil’ was nothing but a marketing slogan, just like ‘think different’?” hairyfeet began.

“Google is becoming every bit as nasty as Apple and MSFT,” hairyfeet opined. “Sure they give you the code (late) for Android, but so what? Without any rules on opening the drivers or against locking the systems you might as well have the plans for the space shuttle for all the good it’s gonna do.”

‘Don’t Dare Try to Compete’

In fact, this particular move comes “right out of Bill Gates’ old playbook: ‘If you use the other guy’s OS, we’ll make sure you don’t get ours,'” hairyfeet pointed out. “Sound familiar? That is because that is what Gates did to BeOS and Linux, duh!”

So, in other words, “I don’t know how much more obvious Google has to be for the FOSS community to get that they are NO different than every other megacorp and only care about ‘freedom’ that benefits THEM,” he concluded.

“They just made it loud and clear that ‘Sure you can have the code, but don’t you dare fork or try to compete with us because we’ll bury you,’ hairyfeet added. “Can’t get much more clear than that.”

‘Why Is This a Big Deal?’

Consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack saw it differently.

“I was all ready to jump on Google for reacting the way they did, but then I read about how Aliyun had an app store loaded with pirated apps, including Google’s own,” Mack said.

“I think that 90 percent of this is journalists who don’t really know what is going on making up a scary headline to get page views,” charged Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien.

“Anyone can use the Android code if they want to use it; that is what ‘open’ means,” O’Brien explained. “Amazon does it right now.

“All Google essentially said was, ‘If you go down this road don’t expect us to help you,'” he added. “So, take the code and go your own way or be a part of the Android ecosystem — make a choice. Why is this a big deal?”

‘They Should Consider GNU/Linux’

The situation is “quite a story,” blogger Robert Pogson mused. “It looks like Acer and Google were not on the same page.”

There’s “nothing wrong with Google and Android/Linux, but there’s also nothing wrong with Aliyun,” Pogson opined. “If Acer wants more independence from Google, they should consider GNU/Linux. It’s well-tested and is available without many restrictions except the necessity to distribute source code…”

All in all, however, “this is all just growing pains for FLOSS on rapidly developing IT and growing pains for OEMs used to polite back-room deals rather than openness,” Pogson concluded.

“Eventually, OEMs and Google will figure out that the world can make its own software cooperatively and get on with it,” he predicted. “They all know FLOSS is the right way to do IT, but they still seem to want to do IT without sharing. That won’t work.”

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

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