How Does Google Android Strategy Illuminate IBM and Its Open Source Plays

April 5, 2011

I read an interesting article with the title “Why Open Code Is Irrelevant to Android’s Success.” The author included a disclaimer. I usually ignore these, but in this instance I noted this statement: “Follow me on Twitter at Savio Rodrigues. I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies, or opinions.”

The write up explained that open Android does not have to be open to be a hit. That got me thinking, not about Google but IBM. The main point of the article seemed to me to be:

Google is attempting to “take any layer that lives between themselves and the consumer and make it free (or even less than free).” This is incredibly important to handset vendors and carriers who have an incentive to use and promote Android over alternatives. The fact that Google shares mobile search revenue with its handset partners makes Android not just free, but a profit center, which is hard for a vendor to ignore regardless of the openness of the platform itself. As mobile handset alliance members, these vendors have access to Android source code well ahead of third-party developers. As such, the openness of Android is a distant secondary issue, if at all. These vendors are concerned, however, with developers building applications for the platform and end-user adoption. Application developers may care about Android’s openness, but establishing and maintaining a large user base and the ease with which the platform enables developers to deliver applications, and pay for directly or indirectly, are much larger concerns. Android’s ever growing vendor support and Google’s investments to close the feature/function gap to Apple iOS are the key to developer success on the platform, making openness an afterthought.

Let’s set aside Google and consider this argument in the context of IBM’s open source activities. If the argument in the InfoWorld article is spot on, then IBM or other companies playing an open source card are using open source to further their proprietary products. Assume that these companies embraced open source as a hedge. If open source were a viable option for users or organizations, the company embracing open source would be in the midst of the battle. Situational decisions would allow the open source newcomer to adapt. However, open source now has some history behind it and the write up makes clear that this history points to proprietary software. If Google remains proprietary, won’t IBM remain proprietary?

What happens to open source when these big companies cash in their open source hand? Will open source be marginalized or thrive? If Google wins with a closed Android (once positioned as open), open source software may be at risk.

Stephen E Arnold, April 3, 2011

Freebie unlike IBM search software based on open source Lucene

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