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Is Android Open? Not So Much, Study Finds

Eclipse and Linux top the charts for openness, according to research firm Vision Mobile.

Google's Android mobile platform may be based on the open source Linux operating system, but the extent of its own openness has long been a topic of considerable debate.

Android is a heck of a lot more open than Apple's iOS, to be sure, but it's not as open as many open source advocates would like.

Now there's some comparative data to back that up. In a new study (PDF) published Monday by research firm Vision Mobile, in fact, Android was named the most "closed" of eight different open source projects.

Just 23 Percent Open

Android, MeeGo, Linux, Qt, WebKit, Mozilla, Eclipse, and Symbian are the eight open source projects included in Vision Mobile's study.

To assess the openness of each, the company created what it calls its Open Governance Index, which includes 13 metrics measuring four key areas:

1. Access, or the availability of source code along with developer support and decision-making transparency;

2. Development, measuring the influence of developers;

3. Derivatives, or developers' ability to create and distribute derivatives of the source code; and

4. Community, focusing on a nondiscriminatory structure.

Based on those metrics, Vision Mobile came up with a summary score for each open source project, ranging from Android--which got an openness score of just 23 percent--all the way up to Eclipse, which topped the list with 84 percent. You can see a portion of the results in the infographic on the right.

'Google's Financial Muscle'

So what does it all mean?

In general, "our research suggests that platforms that are most open will be most successful in the long-term," Vision Mobile concludes. "Eclipse, Linux, WebKit, and Mozilla each testify to this."

Android, however, is a paradox.

"Android's success may have little to do with the open source licensing of its public codebase," the report suggests.

Rather, "Android would not have risen to its current ubiquity were it not for Google's financial muscle and famed engineering team," it asserts--not to mention the company's strategy of subsidizing Android as a way to generate ad revenue.

Then, too, there are the billions spent by manufacturers and network operators in order to compete with iOS devices.

Openness vs. Success

It's interesting to see openness quantified and Android's relative lack thereof illustrated so clearly. It's also educational to see the projects' openness discussed within the context of their success.

There's no denying that openness can be a winning strategy, or that open source software is increasingly ubiquitous. In Android's case, though, that may be beside the point.

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