Linux Weekly News did an excellent coverage of James Bottomley talk at LinuxCon Japan on Linux and Android relationship. I’ve read several opinions on the matter and this one seems to be the most balanced and objective. There is something to learn here for every open source developer and enthusiast.
The community should do better at fostering and embracing diversity, encouraging forks (which can create significant progress) and helping them to merge back. Currently, James said, the kernel gets a “C – must do better” grade at best here. We only take code from people who look like us; as a result, the Android merge attempt was more painful than it needed to be.
Companies, in turn, should aim for “control by acclamation” rather than control by total ownership. Linus Torvalds was given as an example; he has a lot of control, but only because the community trusts him to do the right thing. In general, if the community trusts you, it will happily hand over a lot of control; that’s why the benevolent dictator model is as common as it is. On the other hand, companies which try to assert control through walled garden development or by demanding copyright assignment from contributors have a much harder time with the community.
In summary, James said, Android was a fiasco for everybody involved; we all need to figure out how to do better. We need to find better ways of encouraging and managing forks and allaying licensing fears. Projects which create forks should be thinking about merging back from the outset. Then projects which (like Android) are a commercial success can also be a community success.