Google is facing a major backlash from the Android community after sending a cease-and-desist order to the independent developer behind a popular Android mod. The controversy reflects some of the licensing challenges that are raised by mobile platforms that incorporate both open and proprietary components. It also illuminates yet another weak point in Google's commitment to delivering a truly inclusive and open platform.
Developer Steve Kondik, known by his handle Cyanogen, is an independent Android hacker who builds custom ROM images that users can install on their Android-powered handsets. His customizations are well-liked and bring significant improvements to the platform. A growing number of Android enthusiasts contend that the stock platform doesn't live up to expectations and that the custom ROM, particularly its performance optimizations, are essential to having a quality Android user experience. The problem, however, is that the custom ROM ships with Google's proprietary software components, such as the Android Market and Maps applications.
Third-party developers do not have a license to distribute these components and consequently cannot include them in custom ROMs without committing copyright infringement. Licensing issues of this nature have always cast a shadow over ROM hacking, but major mobile platform vendors have generally been willing to look the other way because the practice is mostly harmless, largely beneficial to advanced users, and would be very difficult to stop. Among Windows Mobile enthusiasts, for example, use of "cooked" ROMs is almost ubiquitous and a number of popular forums have emerged across the Internet to provide users and practitioners with a means of collaborating and distributing the custom ROMs.