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Open Source Ideals of the Android Architecture vs. IBM PC compat./x86


Apr 13, 2010
So I have thought about this a little bit lately and it has come to my concern that we Android handset owners seem to be locked in a closed source situation on an open source architecture, and what it means for us in the future.

Back in the 80's (well 70's and 80's) IBM created the x86 pc platform (which technically what we all use today is a derivative of on our pcs [but not the android]). It is an open source architecture. Anyone can really just get plans, buy the chips/stuff to make the board with and make their very own motherboard, complete with their own bios system and the whole bit, and make it compatible with whatever chip you want. The only real proprietary thing about ANY pc in it's internals is the processor, and at that, if you were rich enough (and smart enough) you could make your own processor to fit. But back when x86 first came out, it was proprietary. You had to get it from IBM in an IBM pc, it was not open to other manufacturers, but ANYONE could code for it from the ground up, being it a small program, all the way to a full operating system. After a little bit of failure and slump on IBM's side of things, they opened up the architecture for anyone to buy, change, add to and revise, and so that brings us to where we are today with blazing fast pcs and the like.

Now on the Android part of things...

Android IS an open source everything, from the chips to the motherboard, to the O.S. to a lot of the apps. The only thing that is proprietary is the phone signaling code/radio code and chips. So why are we stuck with whatever our carrier or better yet phone manufacturer gives us? Just as with the IBM platform, we can make any Android device we want from scratch and we really don't even have to use their O.S. if we don't want to. Heck, to be completely honest, it's way easier to actually make an android device from scratch, than the IBM compat. platform, and of course as we have seen lately with custom roms, it's easier to port Operating systems from one system to the next (well, it's all android but you know what I mean).

So why can't we just like.. Make our own O.S. put it up on the internet to sell (M$ chime in anyone?) or give away, and then you just install it on the phone like a pc, and just like with cable/dsl/etc. let the phone co. install their proprietary stuff on it for the radio chipset (of course we do have the limitations depending on the carrier frequency of gsm/cdma but if you came out with a phone that did both which is VERY possible then it would not be a problem).

So it really comes down to the deal of warranty. If I root it/rom it, and it breaks, the carrier won't warranty it. If you buy a Dell computer, put linux on it, and it breaks (physically or electrically) then would Dell not honor it? Sure it would. Overclocking is definitely a grey area, but then that is common sense. Yes you would lose SOFTWARE support but you could always go back to Windows if you wanted. However.... Carriers won't give you the stock rom, so we CANT go back to stock once we rom out our phones (unless your the lucky few that is on a carrier that has had an RUU out).

What are your thoughts on this?
Have a look at OpenMoko.

Anyway, contrary to what you seem to think, the development of phone hardware suitable to run an OS similar to Android, is a lot harder than what IBM did when creating the PC. The PC wasn't that revolutionary in terms of technology.

Not only that, if you want the hardware to be widely available, you get into a web of approval testing by institutions like the FCC and their worldwide counterparts. A device needs to be fully operational before it can be approved. Not an easy task; been there, done that, got the T-shirt to prove it.
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