I'm free to do what I want any old time
"Free" as in "free to go somewhere else"
One of the classic thought exercises in the Free/Open-Source Software movement is to describe their work as the intersection of related concepts:

"Free" as in "free beer": that is, literally without cost. You don't have to and aren't expected to pay anything for it.
"Free" as in "free speech": that is, representing a statement of the inherent values of freedom.

It is possible to be one without being the other. Capitalism, for instance, implies free-as-in-free-speech while not at all implying that its products should be literally without cost. On the other hand, this website among many, many others is literally free to view without its contents being open-source.

FOSS has become increasingly fashionable of late, to the point where many companies--Microsoft and Google chief among them--profess affiliation with it. This is incorrect, of course--they are "free beer" posing as "free speech" without any of the hassles of actually having to follow through on this promise.

The latest shot in this war has been fired by Google against one of the developers for the Android platform. For those of you who are not up to speed, Android is fundamentally about a concept rather than an actual product. Nominally, it's a cell phone operating system like Symbian or the iPhone OS. In actuality, you tend to hear more about developers switching to or otherwise using Android than you do about the OS itself, namely because "the OS itself" is rubbish.

Integration with Google services is mostly good, but the core operating system fundamentally fails to take the next step--for instance, "Google mail" and "everybody else" is handled with two completely separate applications; the same goes for Google Talk vs. all other IM clients. The plainly-evident thinking is that the holes in the operating system--Android ships without an RSS reader, for Christ's sake--will be spackled over by other developers. In fact, most of this has occurred, and then some.

The interface is uninspired, a half-hearted attempt to ape the iPhone while being more "functional" like Windows Mobile. Connecting to a wifi access point requires you to drag the menu tab up, click the "settings" application, click "wireless controls", then "turn wi-fi on," then "wi-fi settings," then "add wi-fi network". Turning up the brightness when you go outside (or down again when you come back) is the same deal. Until later versions of the operating system, activating the GPS device required you, inexplicably, to go into "security" settings.

The system is slow, a fact strongly magnified by the equally rubbish "HTC Dream" that was the launch item for the device. Blocky and unremarkable, its processor and RAM are barely sufficient for Android; the system by default only allows applications to be stored to the internal memory. Overall the whole effort, OS and phone, give the impression of a concept that was shipped half-finished, without even basic testing--Android was unlocked fairly easily, because it was quickly discovered that all keystrokes entered on the Dream were being translated as commands issued by root. Oops.

Since the system's launch, a strong community of developers has grown up around it. At XDA-Developers and elsewhere, their names are common parlance. There are at least a half-dozen developers working on different builds of the operating system, and they've been able to do complete magic with it. I'm happy with my G1 not because of Google or HTC, but because of the people who have made it halfway usable.

Google's response to this, predictably enough, has been to ignore it until it stepped on their toes, then send one of them--Steve Kondik--a cease and desist order. The nominal reason is that Kondik includes Google applications in his build, applications that are free as in beer but not as in speech and thus unavailable for public redistribution. Apparently.

For some reason, this reasoning (and the method it was communicated) has failed to endear people to Google or its policy of not being evil until evil becomes more profitable than the alternative. Thusly are there petitions, protest applications in the Android Marketplace, etc. Google will ignore these, as is their prerogative. This is fine. My contract with T-Mobile is up in a couple of months.

In other news, Nokia seems to have figured out that you can get some goodwill by 1) making a decent product and 2) not rolling over for every telecommunications company and lawyer that stares at you.

Imagine that!

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