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Chris Boyle

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The future of Android / CyanogenMod: reply hazy, try again[Sep. 25th, 2009|04:57 pm]

First a bunch of apps were closed source, then we've seen how lax they are at updating the public git tree, and now this: Google has thrown toys from its pram over the inclusion of their closed-source applications in the most popular unofficial Android ROM. The ROM builder is trying to open communication with them, but I wouldn't hold your breath. Those apps are, in increasing order of importance to me:
  • YouTube (I think I can live without that particular piece of junk.)
  • Google Mail (Meh. Not my main address, and IMAP will work with other clients.)
  • Google Talk (I use that, but again, a Jabber client can connect to it.)
  • Android Market (I've bought a few apps, most importantly FeedR, and continuing access to updates would be nice if the vendors are willing to support some other method of subscription, but it's not vital.)
  • Google Maps (This is where I hope AndNav continues to work and the one operational OpenRouteService server stays up.)
Notably, the Calendar and Contacts apps and their respective synchronisation providers are open source.

Others may have different opinions about the importance of the closed apps, but personally it wouldn't make a huge difference to me if unofficial ROMs no longer included them. I know of no other legal problem with CyanogenMod, since it's based on the Android public git tree, so it can and hopefully will live on (although users might have to do this sort of crazy firmware dance). Some people may return to stock ROMs, but I would still rather have root access on what is, lest we forget, my device, not Google's or T-Mobile's. A short list of reasons:
  • Generally, the ability to tweak things beneath the UI, e.g. for wifi, where the UI can't cope with my employer's WPA2 Enterprise network, but I can edit wpa_supplicant.conf.
  • The ability to fix bugs in all existing open-source applications/components, without all the "it's a completely different application" faff.
  • Early and convenient access to new features from the git tree.
  • Wifi/Bluetooth tethering
  • The ability to use third-party bugfixes and improvements without waiting for Google. Cyanogen has done awesome things with scheduler tweaks that make the device much faster, and he had an update that fixed the recent null-pointer kernel root hole before Google did.
In another 8 months or so, the contracts of G1 early adopters will start running out. Meanwhile, devices with much nicer amounts of memory, internal storage and CPU cycles are appearing, a few of which with keyboards, which is good news for those of us who like to SSH from our devices. Some of them reportedly have fastboot available out of the box (or perhaps that's just for review models). It'll be interesting to see what happens to Android between now and then.

Update: Google's response, and one from Cyanogen. :-/
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