Back in August of 2013 lead developer and maintainer for the AOSP, Jean-Baptiste Quéru (JBQ), quit his job in a protest against what he saw as a futile exercise in maintaining an open source project in a world of lawyers and proprietary software. At the time Qualcomm were not releasing the binaries for their Nexus device (Nexus 7 2013) making it impossible for a full build of AOSP for the Nexus 7 2013.
It seems that this year Google (and/or HTC) have come up with a solution to this problem according to JBQ himself. In a post he titled “A Step Forward for the Android Open Source world” JBQ has revealed that the Nexus 9 handles proprietary device-specific files (binaries) differently to how they were in the past. In the past these proprietary binaries were stored in the same partition as the Android files, the /system partition. This meant that for the AOSP to “distribute a functional system image of Android” the binaries themselves also had to be distributed by the AOSP. This meant that the lawyers had field days restricting the files in certain ways and that often a lot of legal wrangling was required for the AOSP to be able to distribute them as part of the system image.
Starting (and hopefully not ending) with the Nexus 9 these proprietary binaries are now stored in their own separate partition dedicated to the vendor files. The AOSP can now thus be distributed by itself without having to copy or distribute these binaries. While it doesn’t help the manufacturer update these binaries any faster than before should a new version of Android be released it means that in between these times there is no obstruction to the AOSP and how it is meant to function.
JBQ summed it up well:
While Android has always been distributed under Open Source licenses (i.e. in the world of lawyers), this brings it closer to the spirit of the Free Software definition in the real world (i.e. in the world of hackers).
Deep down most of us like to think we are hackers. For those of us who love a good AOSP custom rom this is a welcome addition and solution. Has this changed your view of Google and Open Source, given the criticism of how open Android actually is.