This post might draw me a lot of heat but please hear me out before automatically coming to a conclusion.
I like you have been a lover of all things CyanogenMod for years. My first ROM flash was CM 6 for the Motorola Droid, I can still remember just how fricken excited I was to get off the stock nightmare and into something so much more usable. CyanogenMod definitely made the phone feel new and alive and the glory the CM guys received helped convince me to get into Android development myself. I honestly admired these guys and all their hard work.
Enter the Corporate World…
CM has gone corporate, you all know by now CM has become Cyanogen Inc. (“CM Inc.”) with $7M in funding and new offices in a couple a States… This for me is unfortunate for three reasons:
- CM Inc. is the resulting hard work of individuals who thought the project was going to remain open source;
- CM Inc. used the spirit of Android to draw us together and grow, only now to become a potential adversary to the platform; and
- CyanogenMod ROM’s are like the icing on the best cake you’ve ever had, without the cake, you don’t have a lot.
Contributors Didn’t Know they Were Creating a Corporation
For me, this is the most damning revelation of the corporate move. In this post about CM losing Focal, the developer of Focal xplodwild explains that he created Focal under GPL licensing only to have Koush suddenly and unexpectedly ask him to change licensing. This came as a shock to xplodwild, after all he thought, “if this is an open source project, why is GPL not suitable?” Ultimately the answer to his question was exactly what he didn’t want to hear: the rationale was to ensure that Focal was proprietary to CM in some aspects making it valuable in licensing negotiations. But what about xplodwild’s hard work developing this major contribution under the context of open source? Would xplodwild even have create the Focal app, off contract, for a commercial entity? You can easily answer that I’m certain.
Clearly, CyanogenMod is a brand built through the work of many volunteers like xplodwild. Brands are the most important part of your corporation, in CM Inc.’s case the brand is even more important than usual as the code (their other major asset) requires frequent changes or it would become obsolete. Just look at Coca Cola or any other major brand, without a brand they wouldn’t have much because they wouldn’t be selling products, no one would know about them… The same is true with CyanogenMod, except their brand was built under the premise of an open and essentially not for profit environment, while Coca Cola paid others billions of dollars to establish a market presence. If contributors were told they were working toward building a corporation for a select cross-section of the team to join and profit from, things would be different, but I doubt they were aware of this intention from day one. Xplodwild’s experience, if accurate, leads me to this conclusion.
CM Inc. Took Advantage of Android’s Spirit Only to Now Turn on It
Android is the best piece of software I’ve ever used, it’s made my life easier and more enjoyable in so many ways, I owe a lot to Google and honestly so does Cyanogen Inc. CM Inc. said during their Reddit AMA, “Creating disruption in a multibilion dollar market is enough to make any investor raise their eyebrow”… Isn’t that exactly what Google did years ago when it purchased Android and threw it into the ring against Apple’s iOS?
CM Inc. talks proudly about attracting investments due to their ability to disrupt the market, but I can’t help but think that’s a false sense of bravado given CM is literally riding Google’s coattails here. The reality is the CM team could never have launched an OS like Android on their own and I think they need to be reminded of that. Given my love for Android, naturally anything that could potentially impact it’s dominance is going to be seen as a threat to me.
Yes, open source is just that, open, but in my opinion this doesn’t feel right in the spirit of Android and I strongly believe one shouldn’t forget where they’ve come from. This brings me to my final point…
Android’s the Best Cake You’ve Had and CM’s the Icing
Yes, CM is great and in fact I’m still using CM 10.2 right now. CM 10.2 is a fantastic modification and the result of thousands of contributions, go take a look at the nightly changelogs, you will be blown away by the amount of work that goes into most releases. All this hard work, combined with Google’s exceptional code base produces a very polished product. CM is admittedly more polished than stock Android 4.3. You can customize CM more, CM offers some cool unique features, toggles and settings while also offering additional performance and battery life in most cases.
Take Android away though and what do you have? Just some frosting really. CM as it stands is not differentiated enough from stock Android 4.3 for me to consider it a viable product on its own. To me, it’s the 20% for which Android represents the other 80%. How can you create a company on this premise? What substance is there really without Google’s contributions and hard work, heck, what if Google decides not to license their apps to CM Inc.? From various accounts this is a possibility and may be likely given what happened with Alibaba’s Android spin-off.
I don’t hate CM by any means. I still very much appreciate their contributions and I will still promote CM 10.2 to everyone I see with an Android phone.
This is my opinion of the CM Inc. spin-off, what’s yours? Do you feel CM is a threat to Android, if not, why?