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Schmidt: Forcing Carriers To Provide "Clean" Android Would Violate Principle Of Open Source

One of the disturbing things about the Skyhook Wireless lawsuit against Google is the allegation that Google made Motorola drop Skyhook as a location provider, especially when Google CEO Eric Schmidt said last week that such restrictions would be “violating the principle of open source.”

Schmidt’s comment came during a press lunch at the Google Zeitgeist partners conference last week, on September 14, a day before the Skyhook suit made headlines.

I’d asked Schmidt why Google didn’t pressure carriers to provide a way for consumers to have a “pure” Android experience if they want, especially when carriers often don’t push out the latest Android updates or load their phones with features some users might not want.

Schmidt’s response, and I’ve bolded the key portion below, was that Android is open source, and so Google can’t be putting restrictions on what can be done in to its open source software and still have it remain open source:


If I buy a new PC or buy a new Mac, and there’s a new software update, I don’t have to go back and wait for Dell to tell me whether or not I can install Windows 7 or whatever it is I want to have. I can just get it.

Is there not a way you can go back to the carriers and say, “You know what, Android’s free, give it out to everybody, but you give the users an option that if they want to have a clean install, they can do it, they can download updates directly from Google. You do that with the Nexus One….


I love that the fact that the two of you [Mike Arrington, who earlier had called it Google’s best phone, because it was the most pure version of Android] love the Nexus One, thank you very much.

But the fact of the matter is that if we were to put those type of restrictions on an open source product, we’d be violating the principle of open source.

You can watch the exchange in the video below. Schmidt also discusses his time at Sun, when Sun tried to have a restrictive “open source” Java that didn’t work, in his opinion:

I’d asked about carriers, but Schmidt’s answer was general. If it’s open source, you put it out there and let anyone — the hardware manufacturers, carriers or anyone — do what they want with it.

Then again, that might not be the case. As the Skyhook case alleges, Google’s “compliance” review, something apparently done solely by Google employees, was said to be used to pressure on Motorola not to use Skyhook. From our earlier story, which cites the Skyhook filing:

Google wielded its control over the Android operating system, as well as other Google mobile applications such as Google Maps, to force device manufacturers to use its technology rather than that of Skyhook, to terminate contractual obligations with Skyhook, and to otherwise force device manufacturers to sacrifice superior end user experience with Skyhook by threatening directly or indirectly to deny timely and equal access to evolving versions of the Android operating system and other Google mobile applications.

You can also see related coverage on this point from other public publications via Techmeme here and here.

As it’s a pending lawsuit, Google won’t speak to the specifics of the case. But in general, it gave me this statement:

Android is an open platform and device makers are free to modify the Android source code to customize or disable any range of features for Android devices. However if someone wishes to market a device as being Android compatible or to include Google applications on the device, we require the device to conform with some basic compatibility requirements to help ensure a consistent experience for users and a consistent platform for developers

This suggests that Google decided Skyhook’s service was somehow incompatible with Androids requirements, which still seems puzzling to me — but that’s something we’ll try to follow up more on, in the future.

Just before the segment above, Schmidt also answered a number of other questions relating to Android. There’s a video of this below, and here are some highlights (and time marks). Also answering on the video is Jonathan Rosenberg, senior vice president, product management, at Google.

When will there be an Android phone better than the iPhone…. (Beginning of video)

You’re not familiar with the Samsung Galaxy S?

Why hardware makers can issue their own flavors of Android…. (1:17 in)

Our policy is to allow the hardware manufacturers to add what consider to be value added …. it seems to be working …. partners like the fact that they can add value.

On the Android / iPhone battle…. (3:00 in)

It benefits both companies, because it increases competition, and I think both companies can do very well …. the fact that these things become popular and everybody wants them, means everybody wins.

On how not making any money on Android doesn’t matter… (6:12 in)

We make zero. It’s free. That would be the definition of no margin …. I have been surprised at how important Android is to our business, but for none of the reasons that you all [in the media] talk about. It’s fundamentally because Android is seen as representative of the new model of computing.

You can watch the video of these answers and more below:

Also from the lunch interview, Schmidt discusses why Google can’t list its ranking factors:

How Google might get Facebook’s social data and what Google might do with it:

Schmidt: Listing Google’s 200 Ranking Factors Would Reveal Business Secrets has a transcript of both videos above and more analysis.

For the really interested, TechCrunch has posted video of the entire lunch with reporters:

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