Google and Android: The messy truth of open-source
Speaking on Cranky Geeks, a ZDNet-owned online television show, Google bigwig Chris DiBona quite plainly admits that Android open-source development isn't plain sailing for its developers. "We could do better," he says, but he isn't apologizing. And rightly so: he would be apologizing for moving too fast. It would be like a pussy-whipped man apologizing after cleaning the house, but forgetting to do the car: "We could do better," yes, but Google could also do a lot worse.
Open-source development is one tricky can of worms. Unlike almost every other technology, time and energy and code is given freely by its developers. It's crazy, and counter-intuitive by most capitalist measuring sticks, but it seems to work -- it's just darn messy. Take Android for example: there are branches everywhere with patches coming in and going out from every which way. All the while you have the leviathan-like megalith of Google producing its own source and only periodically gracing the repositories with its new code. Let's not forget the primary partner-and-now-competitor Motorola: they have 'behind the scenes access' to Google's Android code, which they can develop into their own fork -- later, they might splice it back into the main branch.
And it works. It works at a rate unmeasurable by any non-contemporary standard. Sometimes, for the sake of progress, a little sloppiness is acceptable: after all, the only resource you have to lose is developers -- developers that aren't being paid anything! "[...]The only thing that really matters is how many of these we ship -- how many Android phones. There is a linear relationship between the number of phones you ship and the number of developers," DiBona says in the interview. As cynical as it sounds, it's true. There's no Android roadmap, no way for developers or Google or Motorola to predict what Android 2.2 or later might bring: there's just developers. Throw them at it and see who sticks. In today's day and age such a model is a huge advantage: no one knows what will happen within the next year, let alone a few months.
Open-source projects, to compete with the old-school, closed-source, NDA-ridden oligarchs, simply have to attain a critical mass of developers. That's the sole purpose of the Nexus One: more users, more apps, more coders. Once Android has enough interested and invested parties, there'll be no stopping it. I just hope someone sends out a rescue vehicle to pick up those that are flung by breakneck speeds to the wayside.
[via The Register]