Amazon Fire Not Really Open
Written by Mike James   
Sunday, 04 December 2011

If you thought that the Kindle Fire was an open platform you are going to be disappointed. The code released by Amazon recently may be open source, but it isn't the whole code.


Amazon recently made available the source code for the Kindle Fire version of Android. This has been taken as an indication that the Fire is a fairly open platform. Now the Free Software Foundation has pointed out on its licensing blog that this is something of an illusion - in fact it is not even an illusion as Amazon hasn't actually done or said anything more than it is legally obliged to. It is a fact that in the open software world it is still possible to be both open and closed at the same time.

The trick to this magic is to simply open source the parts you are forced to by the license and keep the additional code you have developed secret. Android is issued under the Apache License which allows modification and reissue under another license. The software that Amazon released is covered by the GPL and LGPL licences and it is a condition of these licence that the source is reissued under the same license - i.e they are copyleft licences.

According the FSF, the source code Amazon has released doesn't include any of of the modifications made to create the Fire operating system. In particular there are no deals of the user interface or the DRM.

In the same way, the software released recently for the rest of the Kindle range only consists of GPL licenced software. What you get looks like a standard Linux distribution with a few additional GPL tools. What you don't get is the ebook reader application or anything that might help create a Kindle clone.

The bottom line is the Amazon has not open sourced the Kindle software. It has just complied with the licencing conditions - something to be applauded but it isn't a step towards more openness.

From the developer's point of view things are a little better for the Fire. The original Kindle family is still served by the Kindle Development Kit (KDK) which is still under a closed beta program. While they have been a few apps for the Kindle it is essentially a platform closed to the developer. The Fire on the other hand can be treated as a regular Android device with a lot of missing facilities - you target Android 2.3. Gingerbread and avoid using Google Mobile Services and any hardware that it doesn't have. You can even use the USB debug facility to download and test your application on the Fire - but to sell it you have to submit it to the Amazon app store.

The Kindle range, including the Fire, represents a closed environment as far as the developer is concerned and this is a worrying trend.




More Information

Free Software Foundation post

Related news

Developers Keen on Kindle Fire


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Last Updated ( Sunday, 04 December 2011 )