Android open source maintainer quits over proprietary code issues

Google may develop the Android software that runs on millions of phones and tablets. But the company also releases the source code for most new builds of Android once it’s ready for public consumption — and at that point outside developers start ripping it apart to see what makes it tick, often building custom versions of Android based on that source code.

Since launching the Google Nexus program a few years ago, Google has also released factory images for most Nexus phones and tablets. Not only does that help folks develop custom firmware for those devices, but it also offers a way to restore a phone or tablet to its factory condition if something goes horribly wrong.

But a few weeks after Google introduced the new 2013 Nexus 7 tablet, there are still no factory images available — and it’s looking like there may never be. And that’s the reason the maintainer of the Android Open Source Project just quit his job as head of AOSP.

Update: Quéru has landed at Yahoo.

New Nexus 7

Jean-Baptiste Quéru is a software engineer who had until recently been in charge of the AOSP project. But in a Google+ Post, he says “there’s no point being the maintainer of an Operating System that can’t boot to the home screen on its flagship device for lack of GPU support.”

Translation: Google can’t release the full source code or factory image for the new Nexus 7, because it includes proprietary binaries related to Qualcomm’s Adreno graphics core.

This doesn’t appear to be a new problem. Google never released a factory image for the first member of the Nexus family, the Google Nexus One. That phone also had a Qualcomm processor.

There are images for the Qualcomm-powered Nexus 4 smartphone, but it took a while for those to be released, and Quéru has suggested he’s not sure the issues will be resolved at all for the new Nexus 7 tablet.

Independent developers can still take advantage of the proprietary blobs to included hardware-accelerated video and graphics support in custom ROMs for the Nexus 7 and other tablets. But since Google doesn’t officially have support to distribute those blobs, the company can’t offer factory image downloads.

It’s not clear why Qualcomm is being more protective over its intellectual property than Samsung, NVIDIA, or Texas Instruments. Those companies made the chips found in other Nexus devices. But it’s also not clear why Google would continue to work with a company that has a poor track record of working with the Android Open Source Project.

via Android Police and Hacker News

  • rahlquist

    The answer is simple dont buy a N7. Buy a competing product, scan the reciept, email a copy to the CEO of Qualcomm and explain their lack of support for OSS cost them that sale.

    • brian

      i can’t imagine how they could be any worse than the powervr gpus.

      • digi_owl

        Sadly, it is all about the IP…

  • Anon

    Some of these hardware folks are still in a cloud of their own making (still thinking that proprietary is what sells)? Or, maybe another big software company is a big customer and has lobbied this hardware company, in ways, to try to hurt Google’s Open Source Image? What if? Again, we are dreaming about this… but, some companies – WE KNOW OF, have a long long history of conspiracy where they used all kinds of tactics in order to defeat their rivals, with their rivals being who ever they see as such, imagined or not? They, this conspiracy focused company, even have seen, at times, some of their partners as the enemy at times, so they are a paranoid lot, for sure?

    • Walt French

      Whee!

  • John

    Well, good thing Qualcomm isn’t the only SoC maker out there. Although, I don’t bother with the ROMing thing anyway.

    I do care about open source drivers (not just graphics) when it comes to Linux especially on small SBCs. That’s why I only get x86 based SBCs.

    • Moogly

      I haven’t been keeping up with currently shipping Intel based smartphone SoCs but on Linux, they have excellent open source graphics drivers. The next gen Atom that will be used on smartphones will have HD 4000 based graphics which already have great open source drivers.

  • Conception

    This sort of reminds me of the HP TouchPad and webOS vs Open webOS.

    HP did release Open webOS to the community as open source but since they decided to not support the HP TouchPad (or any of their phones) they essentially killed any momentum and love for the platform that existed. It boiled down to proprietary drivers and code for certain parts. Had they released everything to the community, I think you’d still be hearing a LOT more about webOS and TouchPads (especially with ACL Android emulation coming down the pipe).

    Long story short, that’s an example of how mixing open source and proprietary code WILL derail a platform eventually and could cause it’s collapse over time.

  • google2013

    “don’t be evil”

    • Labmouse

      In this case it doesn’t appear to be Google’s fault. I would blame Qualcomm.

      • Needname

        Google did choose the hardware, and considering they’ve been down this path before one would think that they would have seen this coming.

      • Labmouse

        I think I’d rather deal with delayed Open Source firmware than pay more for the new Nexus 7. But that also depends on the what the cost increase would have been had they chosen a different chip vendor.

      • raindog469

        I think that’s a little like saying the Rolling Stones’ management was blameless after hiring the Hell’s Angels as security at Altamont. It’s not like Google wasn’t aware of Qualcomm’s history of animosity toward open source operating systems.

      • Labmouse

        I can’t say I’m familiar with that incident, but it sounds like an inappropriately bad analogy. Nexus 7 is not a disaster where lives were lost. It’s a product that works well from all accounts. Like the Nexus One, I’m sure google will release downloadable firmware for the OS community to play with.

        This really looks like a case of a prima donna not liking the situation and throwing a tantrum.

      • CyberGusa

        No, there have been issues all three times Google has used Qualcomm for a Nexus device.

        So this is a recurring issue for them… It also means this wasn’t a spur of the moment decision, but rather the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and the guy simply had enough.

        Like they say, three strikes and you’re out… and this was the third strike!

  • Cal Rankin

    Does that mean we’re doing a “Boycott Qualcomm” now?

  • Morten C

    I was an idiot and bought micro ITX motherboards with Atom and GMA3600 graphics ie the second instance of a PowerVR fiasco. The GMA500 fiasco gave nVidia ION a very good reputation and one should have thought Intel learned from the first fiasco but no: GMA3600 is useless on Win7, 2 years wait for XP drivers (that have issues), no Win8 drivers and the real reason I wanted these boards was for Ubuntu which never happened with proper support and performance.

    So HD4000 graphics on the new Atoms are great news, and if Intel are not to proud to step down maybe Qualcomm should take a hint?

    • Labmouse

      The new Atoms won’t have the HD4000 graphics. I don’t know what they call it, but it’s going to be more like HD2600 than HD4000, the type you see on Celeron and Pentium chips. I don’t understand where people are getting this misinformation from.

      The GMA500 and GMA3600 were licensed from Imagination Technologies, it’s not Intel IP. I have a couple of D2700 mini-itx boards myself. Rather than throw them out, I use them as headless router/firewall boxes.

      The problems end uses have with it, were bad drivers not updated very often and total lack of 64 bit drivers. I’ve heard rumors that the GMA3600 series were flawed at the hardware level that kept from 64-bit environments. I think Intel made a bad decision, but it performed better than the previous generation GMA3150 which was intel IP.

      • CyberGusa

        The decision was a desperate one… at the time Intel needed to start competing on power efficiency and their own iGPU technology was still too much of a power hog at the time. Remember that was over two years ago when they made that decision…

        So they opted for a mobile GPU solution that is already well optimized for power efficiency… Mind, Imagination Tech PowerVR GPU IP has over 78% of the mobile market share and most of the GMA500 issues was with Linux because Imagination doesn’t support open source drivers.

        All Apple mobile products, all TI’s OMAPs, some of Samsung’s SoCs, etc. all use PowerVR GPUs… Support for Android and iOS is actually good, it’s just that there’s no support for Open Source and support for Windows was always weak but partly because Intel always treated it as a niche solution.

        Overall, the decision wasn’t too bad though… in terms of performance the GMA 3600/3650 easily provided 3x the performance of the previous GMA 3150 and provided support for DP, eDP, HDMI, and hardware acceleration… all of which was lacking in all previous Intel based ATOM GMAs…

        They actually got Windows 8 running well, btw, the Clover Trail Z2760 is using the same SGX545 GPU as the GMA3600/3650, just clocked at 533MHz instead of 400/640 MHz.

        The Cedar Trail ATOMs were just given up on by Intel because of the collapse of the netbook market and the re-purposing of the ATOM to compete in the mobile market. So no updates for those models, even though they continued to develop drivers for the GPU itself.

        You are correct about the confusion on the new ATOM GPU, though it’s clearly because it’s stated as being based on the HD4000… but is scaled down like the HD2500 that is itself a more basic version of the HD4000.

        Basically, it’s using the same architecture but instead of 16 execution units it has 4… The HD2500 is actually a step above it with 6 execution units.

        However, unlike the stripped down versions used in the Celerons and Pentiums based on the Core processors, the new ATOM won’t have the advance features like Quicksyc disabled.

        So, aside from limiting performance to keep power levels within range needed for mobile usage, Intel isn’t crippling the capabilities and features of the GPU for the new ATOM.

        Also, since April, Intel has already included the new ATOM GPU in their Open Source driver support… So, Linux users can rest assured they’ll be supported this time around…

  • Walt French

    liliputing wrote, “But it’s also not clear why Google would continue to work with a company that has a poor track record of working with the Android Open Source Project.”

    Let’s remember that the whole purpose of AOSP was to assure OEMs that should Google’s motives and interests change, they could take the AOSP and continue with it on their own.

    So if OHA partners become disaffected with Google giving preferential support to e.g., Motorola — or their Nexus-branded wares, they’d have relatively little in the way of sunk costs that they’d sacrifice by going off the reservation and forking the OS.

    It’s worth noting that a fair amount of what people know as Android® these days is actually Google-proprietary, not automatically included in AOSP, for various reasons. I’d look at this as more of a straw that broke one camel’s back than some egregious change by itself.

    Aside from the fact that only Samsung is making any money, I don’t see why OHA partners would be terribly disaffected by this. And the fact has ALWAYS been that Google wanted to deprecate the value of proprietary hardware, putting it all on eyeballs, stores, and other Google features; the OEMs knew that was the gamble when they signed up. Worked quite nicely for Samsung, FWIW.

  • dilharo

    Sadly Jean Baptiste is no Linus Torvald!! …………… ….I…. …………..