Android engineer touts Nexus openness - see also: webOS | webOS Nation

Android engineer touts Nexus openness - see also: webOS 48

by Dieter Bohn Mon, 20 Dec 2010 8:04 pm EST

The new flagship Android phone from Google and Samsung, the Nexus S, was "rooted" from day one of its availability. Our pals at Android Central noted the event and today pointed us to a blog post by a security engineer who works on the Android team at Google, Nick Kralevich.

Kralevich notes that with the Nexus S and the Nexus One, it's not quite right to call it "rooting" the phone, as those two Android devices are designed from the get-go to easily let developers get root access to hack away at the device. To say that you've "rooted' the Nexus S is a bit of a misnomer, all you've really done is turn on the access that was there waiting for you. Other Android devices, he rightly notes, are locked down by manufacturers and carriers and so must be "rooted" by taking advantage of some kind of insecurity to open them up for full development playtime. 

....all of which should leave users in webOS land slightly bemused. Read on.

Rooting is hostile to open development

Kralevich ends with the following hope:

Unfortunately, until carriers and manufacturers provide an easy method to legitimately unlock devices, there will be a natural tension between the rooting and security communities. We can only hope that carriers and manufacturers will recognize this, and not force users to choose between device openness and security.

The open-source Android platform is often locked down and difficult to access - to say nothing of the closed-source elements from both Google, manufacturers, and carriers that gets added on. The mighty Google has been unable to convince their hardware and carrier partners to allow easy root access.

On the closed-source webOS, root access is freely available to all and doesn't even require access to a computer - just tap in the Konami Code and the device is open. The lowly Palm has shipped webOS devices on multiple carriers with this open access available to one and all.

Palm's relative openness and support helped to spur a homebrew development and hacking community that is proportionately larger than anybody looking at webOS marketshare would ever expect.  

In fact, the refrain that you don't need to "root" a webOS phone is one many webOS fans have been familiar with for over a year now. We've talked about the relative 'openness' of Android and webOS on this site several times before.

(In this regard, we can lump iOS and Apple in with the Android crowd - there's still the same roadblocks thrown up in front of users, they just happen to come from one source instead of many.)

Android's Openness

Android is Open Source - but only nominally. There are usually closed-source apps added in from Google and manufacturers and carriers. The actual hardware, as we just saw, if often locked down.

Android's openness means that often it's open to manufacturers and carriers to close it down from hacking and tweaking by end users.

On Android, there is a lot of effort that has to go into trying to uncover the latest 'sploit on an ever-increasing array of handsets from a huge group of manufacturers - each with their own particular security holes to take advantage of. Once that process is completed, adding customizations usually requires a fairly-complicated rooting process followed by flashing entirely new ROMs to add features and functionality. In some cases, those ROMs include code that developers most certainly don't have permission to redistribute - this has led to some clever workarounds (Cyanogen deserves special recognition here), but some Android hackers have been put in the position of exposing themselves to nastygrams from manufacturers for distributing their improved ROMs. 

webOS' Openness

Counterintuitively, sometimes it takes a little bit of centralized control to foster openness within the ecosystem. With webOS, we have a single manufacturer making the design decisions. Luckily, that manufacturer has (to date) decided to leave their OS easy to "root."

webOS is not as open as Android. Nearly the entire codebase is closed source - although since it has a simpler architecture than Android, it's in some ways more accessible. webOS' openness means that while it's closed-source at the top, it actually can be more open to hacking and tweaking by end-users than Android.

We are lucky to have a homebrew community that quickly organized around a framework for development championed by WebOS Internals. The result is a community of webOS hackers and developers that spend their time working together collaboratively do to interesting things with the platform.

On webOS, all of the hacking effort can be channeled into patches and other improvements. Instead of spending time figuring out how to 'root' the latest webOS device, developers simply punch in the Konami Code. Thanks in large part to the organizing efforts and pure-as-the-driven-snow code distribution philosophy espoused by WebOS Internals, these improvements to webOS come on a much different system compared to Android. Rather than reflashing entire ROM images, webOS hacks come via easy-to-install and easy-to-uninstall patches to the OS. Because of this framework, developers are rarely put in the position of needing to redistribute proprietary code in order to let users download and utilize their enhancements. 

Openness and Homebrew

To be sure, I don't want to denigrate the homebrew / hacking / ROM development scene for Android - the people there do incredible work and are to be commended for it. The problem is that Android's decentralized, open framework means that manufacturers and carriers can more easily hinder that development.

Wouldn't it be better if Android developers could spend more time souping up the engine and less time trying to pop the hood (and really, why lock the hood)? With webOS, the hood latch is simple to open and the engine is easily accessible (unfortunately, the webOS car/hardware in this metaphor is more Pinto than Porsche, but hopefully that will change soon).

When Kravelich asks manufacturers and carriers to move beyond the false dichotomy between openness and security we can't help but note that there's one manufacturer and a slew of carriers that are executing on his vision right now.

They're doing it with Palm phones running HP webOS.


Perfectly written, Dieter. I've been comparing the two in my head (people have asked me why I have a Pre and not an Android) and I usually answered with a similar finding, but you put it more eloquently than I.

Great editorial and I just wish everyone would have an open mind and realize that just because iOS and Android are the big 2, that doesn't make everything else closed.

webOS has always been this open, and it will always continue to be.

Android will never have the openness of webOS until Google steps in and tells carriers and manufacturers to make it that open (and they won't).

iOS never has been, nor will it ever be, an open platform.

It would be nice if an open platform like WebOS could at least play non-proprietary audio formats like ogg and flac (Android does).

I am kind of bemused as I thought webos is prpriotory and closed.

webOS is proprietary and closed source, but it is also open.

Openness doesn't only mean open source code. It means that Palm has made webOS an open platform in the sense that they embrace their homebrew community. None of the major Android manufacturers allow homebrew activities (and they all say the same thing as Apple: it voids the warranty).

Android is mostly open source, but the carriers and manufacturers close the platform.

webOS is mostly closed source, but the only manufacturer of its devices, and the maker of the OS made it an open platform.

And if you want to dig through the opensource components of webOS just look here:

The other great thing about webOS is that, even if you do something that "voids your warranty", Palm provides webOS Doctors that essentially wipe your device clean. Short of changing/damaging the hardware, there's no way of knowing you hacked up your phone if you doctor it.

As a person that uses both Android and webOS I cannot agree more. Getting a custom ROM onto my HTC hero was a huge pain in the ass. I had to down grade the OS on my phone, install a rom manager, flash the rom, and if I need to have sprint look at the phone I need to re flash to the sprint image.

I've had to Flash my Pre three times in over 2 years using webOS Doctor. In 1 week of trying to root my HTC Hero I had to flash a rom onto the phone 5 times. Even installing the Gingerbread keyboard isn't easy and that's a beginner's mod.

I hope modding android does become easier in the future, webOS and webOS Internals is a great group to model the effort after.

You couldn't have doctored your Pre 3 times in 2 years (or more)... It wasn't announced until CES 2009 (less than 2 years ago) or released until June 6, 09 (18 months and 14 days ago).

But I agree with you.

He didn't say it was once per year... just 2x in 3 years. Both could have happened last week, for all we know! But I see how you read it that way...

is webos really as open as android? If it was possible to run webos on other device, would it be legal? I see android being ported to other devices. I'm not a developer and so am I kind of missing something here as others are saying webos is more open than android?

webOS is an open platform, in the sense that you have the ability to easily enable developer mode on ALL devices, plus you're able to easily modify most of webOS to do what you want.

Android is an open source operating system. It can be ported to a device, but the copy on most devices is not an open platform, because the manufacturers lock it down (either because they don't want to support issues that may arise, or because carriers tell them to).

it really does suck to constantly get beat at your own game. WebOS could poop ice cream but it wouldn't matter because no one uses it.

Ask yourselves, is WebOS really that much better than anything else on the market? At this point, what is the justification for it? Is this something the market needs, or even wants? For me, it's mostly nostalgia for the company that invented the smartphone.

How in the world are they going to crack the android/ios/rimm user base?

>How in the world are they going to crack the android/ios/rimm user base?

Marketing, in the unlikely event they try some.

Just got a flashback reading this...

Substitute Apple System 9 for Palm WebOS and you have summarized pretty much what everyone said about Apple 10 years ago. OSX desktop and the original iPod came out in 2001, and people often forget just how irrelevant Apple was in the late 90s.

is webos really as open as android? If it was possible to run webos on other device, would it be legal? I see android being ported to other devices. I'm not a developer and so am I kind of missing something here as others are saying webos is more open than android?

is webos really as open as android? If it was possible to run webos on other device, would it be legal? I see android being ported to other devices. I'm not a developer and so am I kind of missing something here as others are saying webos is more open than android?

I'm not a developer neither but I believe when Google describes Android they mean that their code is Open. Which means anyone can get the code and make their own Android type device. However, being able to "hack" it to customize it depends on the manufacturer and carried. For example, the nexus line is an Open device in which it doesn't need to be hacked for it to be easily customized but other phones like most of the Droids are locked and the warranty is voided if the phones are hacked.

I do believe it is illegal for webOS code to get redistributed, so it is close in that essence but Palm does let you customize and "hack" your phone without putting up barriers or voiding your warranty.

This is what I believe I know, correct me if I'm wrong. "For one thing I do is that I know nothing at all."

webOS = non-modifiable yet highly hackable. kind of a paradox actually.

Kudos on a very good article!

He shoots! He scores! With all the talk that goes on in these forums I've always wanted to hear/read what you think. So I also wonder what you believe is going to happen "in the coming months", is webOS more likely to live or die. What are you gonna get if webOS fails and why.

My pinto is falling apart. Today I found the screen crack has extended and progressed more towards the screen/digitizer. I'm babying it ... trying to make it last , limp along, till I can jump and land on a decent ride with a soupped up webOS 2.x software.

Rock-a-by SprintPre on the tree top ...

"Rock-a-by SprintPre on the tree top ..."
I could help but laugh at this.

It rings a bit hollow to say how webOS is SO much more open than Android. Especially when there are SO many Android phones from SO many manufacturers. Why not have an article boasting about how much easier it is to write apps for webOS vs iOS? You would be ignoring of course the immense app chasm between the two.

Google aside from making an OS that is open puts a great deal of effort in advancing Android. Unlike Palm who has been content to release an unfinished product and rely on homebrew to move it forward. And despite the awesome job they have done, homebrew cannot do it alone.

i'm sure that was Palm's intention: "meh, we've had enough. let the homebrew guys finish the job."


What on earth do numbers of devices and applications have to do with a discussion about openness of OS and ease of writing applications?

Well said Dieter. This argument will always have two decided lines. Android is open but why do the hardware manufacturers insist on locking the doors? webOS is closed but Palm has chosen to leave the back door unlocked for devs to come in and redecorate a bit. Basicly, Android is more open on the front end and webOS is more open on the back.

i think arguing about openness is like arguing that something isn't really 4G: The average person doesn't really care.

I literally burst out laughing when I read this line: "Instead of spending time figuring out how to 'root' the latest webOS device, developers simply punch in the Konami Code."

There are five webOS devices, two of which are literally just copies of another, therefore there are really just three webOS devices, and since the vast majority can't get the Pre2, there are really just two devices.

Hmm, so, if there were just two Android devices then those Android developers wouldn't have to waste all of their time trying to "root" those devices either...


LOL, yeah, I guess I had too much egg nog whilst writing that comment.

My point was "Instead of spending time figuring out how to 'root' the latest webOS device..." is really kind of funny considering everyone around here moaning over the complete lack of webOS devices...

The "lastest webOS device" is really the Pre and Pixi Plus, which are a year old and as far as software goes they are identical to the Pre and Pixi which are a year and a half old.

The vast majority cannot get hold of any WebOS-based phone, least a Pre2.....

Chest beat all you like about how open the OS is, Palm still has the most closed marketing system of all the phone manufacturers ;)

He shoots! He scores! With all the talk that goes on in these forums I've always wanted to hear/read what you think. So I also wonder what you believe is going to happen "in the coming months", is webOS more likely to live or die. What are you gonna get if webOS fails and why.

to use a cooking analogy, Google hands out the recipe to carriers and manufacturers and allows them to alter it as they see fit. this can be for better or (more commonly) worse since manufacturers can and often do turn proprietary any newly added code. this of course hinders Google's utopian vision of openness, though I suspect they knew this type of thing would happen. "Don't be evil, unless you're one of our partners."

webOS however uses a 'top-secret' recipe but leaves a very generous amount of room for users to season it as they like (an open-source philosophy in a technically closed environment if you will). while not developed to be open 'per se', Palm still leaves the door open enough for users to personalize the OS well beyond the point of general customization options.

A piggy back article off of a Android blog post. Dissapointing that we have come to this point. Guess no news does not equal good news. Telling Precentral readers that webOS is more open than Android is like telling us the sky is blue...already been established. Preaching to the choir.

For some, articles like this are needed due to the consistant misinformed users on other sites. Me personally don't think it is disappointing.

He shoots! He scores! With all the talk that goes on in these forums I've always wanted to hear/read what you think. So I also wonder what you believe is going to happen "in the coming months", is webOS more likely to live or die. What are you gonna get if webOS fails and why.

I thinks it's going to die. WebOS 2.0 isn't going to change a thing. We're all hoping it is but it isn't. Devs still aren't going to want anything to do with this phone because it doesn't hold well in the market. Why develop for something that will make no money?

Everyone's already given this awesome article all the praise I was going to, so... uhhh... insert your least favorite off topic rant **HERE!!!1** :P

I have extensively used and hacked both platforms and I full heartedly agree with everything in this article. I wish we could combine the best of the two platforms and make a single perfect device, instead of two platforms that each have something missing.

yes we get it, webos is super duper open and developers SHOULD love it. its about the nummmbbberrrsss. its not that hard to understand. if webos is the best out there, prove it, 1.3%...just wait just wait

Why do front page articles bring out so many envious webOS haters?

Ok, if WebOS is so "open" why is it so boring to hack and play around with, with it's limited amount of "good" themes and apps? I read the WebOS awards yesterday and could not help but laugh at the fact the Angry Birds is the best game? Why do developers not develop for this OS. If it's so open we should have tons of themes and apps and our forums should be booming. We have some of the most boring articles on the net about stuff I already know how to do. Take a look at, now that is a forum. It's also taking forever for the update to come out. The people releasing it are worse than Apple. What the hell is "in the coming months"? If I would have known that the user base for this phone was so crappy I would have never had purchased the phone. Come next October it's so long WebOS for me. Until then I'll just hold over with my iPod touch and my brothers Hero for my needs including hacking and theming.

Truer words have not been spoken. Those who know me look at me sideways for still carrying a Pre. My response is that until there is an Android phone that can be as easily modified to my tastes and has a touchstone I will continue to carry a Pre. When those with an iPhone ask, I laugh:) Although, on the Christmas wish-list for the Pre is the Android unlock gesture and Samsung's gesture software keyboard. I can't believe palm didn't come up with that first... I used and loved the palmOS gestures for years before I bought my first Treo with a full keyboard.

Well written and so true.. I love my PRE AND want a new device badly... Web Os is the future of OS... Hp and PalM have to push it like there lives depend on it next year.. Cause android is set to take the throne next year over RIMM and APPLE.. So we need some of that market share...

I don't know about comparing the hardware to a pinto and porsche... More like a 2002 Honda Accord vs a 2011 Ford Edge (in the case of the Galaxy S phones.)

The iPhone however, is pretentious crap... So Porsche might be apt after all. ;)

"the webOS car/hardware in this metaphor is more Pinto than Porsche"

More like a BMW vs a Mercedes. Maybe I have a narrower perspective ....

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