If you haven’t been following the Android news cycle lately you may have missed the news that the team behind CyanogenMod has now formed Cyanogen, Inc. The team has taken on $7 million in investment to create a user-friendly alternative to the skinned versions of the Android OS that ship on most manufacturers phones.
This is a very interesting development in the Android community. The CyanogenMod team and its community are, in my opinion, responsible for a large portion of the development of the ideal mobile OS. They’ve chosen to build their ROM on top of the Android Open Source Project in a very non-invasive manner. What you get when you install CM is as close as possible to the core look and feel of the Android OS along with tweaks and some other enhancements.
I’ve been running CyanogenMod on all of my Android phones the moment support for the phone has come about. To me there is nothing better than a community working together to build something awesome. I’m not an active developer of any part of Android. I do, however consider myself a beta tester and enthusiast. I feel apart of this community and I think that feedback that I (and many, many others) have provided has helped make this ROM a daily driver for many Android users.
Now, up to this point I’ve rehashed what other blogs and news sites have been reporting. What I want to point out is the trepidation that I feel over this move. The CyanogenMod team has gone from a group of developers that relied on their users for ideas, testing, and bug reports to a company that is now beholden to its investors. To me this change must be handled in a delicate manner.
I want to point out that I’m not a naysayer to this change in CyanogenMod’s direction. I hope the team can manage the project in a similar fashion to how Canonical maintains the Ubuntu Linux distribution. I also think it opens up a great opportunity in the way the team can attract developers to maintain a full-time presence. In a way I hope that the team still works with the community and keeps the level of give and take at a respectable level.
What I’m most afraid of is that now that the CyanogenMod ROM has become so popular and well-respected, as well as ingrained in so many other projects, that the change from a community maintained open source project to one controlled by a company that the community presence is cut from the project and it becomes a product. I’m afraid that there is a possibility of the CyanogenMod team dissolving the community for business reasons due to the aspect of being a company that must answer to its investors. I don’t think that anyone on the team has these thoughts. I’m just concerned that as the company grows and tries to be profitable that the clash between maintaining the interactions between the team and the community may fall to the whims or fancies of an executive or board member.
I also worry over what we’re going to see developed by the team now that it has to satisfy its investors. The possibility of the project being forked into a free version and a paid version is very disconcerting. I can understand some services provided by Cyanogen, Inc. could be monetized in a manner where it doesn’t alienate the community. A perfect example of this would be the CyanogenMod Account. I prefer Google’s service and I have no qualms of Cyanogen, Inc. offering a more comprehensive version for a fee. What I do worry about is that the ROM will be stripped of all of its enhancements (Focal, Voice+, etc) and then resold back to users.
Adam Outlier has already said his piece on this matter. I have a great respect for Adam and all he has done for the community. I don’t want to see other developers and contributors take a stance of dropping from the community. I just hope that as a community we can reconcile our differences when it comes to profiting from the work which has already been provided by the community and what is done as by Cyanogen, Inc. I also hope we as a community along with Cyanogen, Inc. can continue to work on building a successful ROM that users can count on to be stable and cutting edge.