Google confirms Android 4.0 ICS is open source

Google has confirmed that the source code for Android 4.0 'Ice Cream Sandwich' will be made public, after it refused to release the code for its predecessor 'Honeycomb.'

Previously, Google had made the source code for its Android operating system available to all under the Android Open Source Project, or AOSP. The release of Android 3.0 'Honeycomb' - the version aimed specifically at tablets - marked a period where Android became closed source.

While previous versions are still available, Google has repeatedly refused to release the source code for Android 3.0 - despite promising to do so when the software reached version 3.1.

Google's recalcitrance appears to stem from two issues: one is that Honeycomb is specifically designed for large-screen devices and Google is concerned that, if released, it would find its way onto unsuitable form factors; the other, hinted at by Google employees in the past, is that much of the code is a kludge unsuitable for publication.

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich marks a return to form for the project, with Google's Jean-Baptiste Queru confirming that the Android Open Source Project is back on track for a release in the near future.

"The Android Open Source Project is distributing code once again," writes Queru. "That means ICS [Ice Cream Sandwich] will be coming to AOSP."

It's a major move for Google to make: Android is the only one of the mobile platforms from the 'big three' technology firms - including Microsoft's Windows Phone and Apple's iOS - to supply the source code, and many in the community were disappointed when Google refused to do the same with Honeycomb.

More importantly, the release of the source code will encourage third-party developers to port the software to older handsets abandoned by their manufacturers. Currently most third-party ROMs use Android 2.3 'Gingerbread' as their source, but the release of Ice Cream Sandwich's code should allow an easy upgrade.

Although the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich software development kit has been released, the source code is not yet out. Although Google hasn't committed to a release date, it seems likely that it will wait until the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is released next month before making the code available - if only to ensure no cunning OEM pips its latest hero handset to the post.