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13 March 20140 Comments by Jon M

#7 CyanogenMod raises $7 million and incorporates

We’ve been working on a recap of the biggest stories in mobile and tech from last year. With our good friend Scottie Ladeaux we’re going to bring you a new post looking back on our picks from 2013 every Thursday.

Today we have #7 in the countdown where we look at the shocking story of CyanogenMod incorporating. The Android custom ROM raised $7 million dollars last year to help take the project to the next level.

CyanogenMod has been at the forefront of open source Android development for many years now. The founder, Steve Kondik initially published his first version of the CyanogenMod ROM way back in May 2009 and since then the software has grown to an unprecedented degree. It started with just a few developers but now thousands contribute to the code.

The big story of 2013 broke on September 18th when some massive news shook up the Android community. The Steve Kondik announced in the official blog that CyanogenMod also raised over $7 million of venture capital and that the organisation had incorporated itself. The money would fund a staff of fifteen (and a dog) who would work on the ROM full-time. They’d even negotiated a deal with hardware manufacturer Oppo to feature CyanogenMod as the default operating system on its new phones.

This news was pretty unprecedented in the mobile industry it’s really exciting to anticiapte what the future might bring. CyanogenMod have declared that they intend to become the third platform in the smartphone arena behind Apple’s iOS and Google’s official Android builds.

However, this news also came with a healthy dose of controversy. Immediately after the announcement, there were some very pressing questions from the community – the $7 million isn’t a donation without any strings attached and there were concerns about how CyanogenMod intends to provide a return to investors.

Guillaume Lesniak (‘xplodwild’) used to be one of the main developers on the team but left the project following the incorporation. He also withdrew his code which made up the Focal camera app because of changes to the license that CyanogenMod Inc wanted to introduce. Others alleged that all the code they have written for free to further the CyanogenMod project may now be been included in a commercial product in which they won’t benefit at all.

There were also complaints from the community about the communication surrounding the announcement as well as the fact that hundreds of individuals have contributed to the CyanogenMod source code over the years but only a select few are going to be getting a salary out of the corporation.

Furthermore, many who have worked on the project over the years have done so in on the assumption that it was an open source and not-for-profit project. Following the incorporation and the millions of dollars worth of investments, there was substantial controversy about requests to re licence their contributions under a MySQL esque dual licence. As a result, Steve Klondik had to reassure the community that CyanogenMod wouldn’t be selling out or doing something drastic like closing its source.

Despite that, there were still many criticisms immediately after the news broke with suspicions that it’s being dumbed down after certain advanced settings and root access were removed from newer versions. Some developers left the project as they saw these changes as making the software more commercially viable rather than in the interests of users. Recently, CM insiders have admitted that Going forward, there will two separate release branches. And they even have plans to change the name to make it more marketable.

In general though, aside from the fears of commercialisation, there is huge admiration for what CyanogenMod has managed to achieve. It has now clocked well over 100 million installs and has even recently introduced a simple CyanogenMod installer for both PCs and Macs.

This level of investment and recognition for the ROM shows that big business has faith in open source projects. After all, contributors work on projects like this to make better software and help the community rather than for recognition or money.

This is a really fascinating opportunity and it will be great to see how CyanogenMod improves and evolves over the coming years. It’s clear the team have some really big ideas and they’ve already contracted Moxie Marlinspike who’s a big-name security researcher (and seriously cool dude) to build a secure messaging app. Hopefully the ROM will continue to get more stable and add some really innovative features to stock Android.

The best outcome will be if CyanogenMod reaches as many phones as possible so it can rescue millions more people from the tyranny of slow updates and bloatware from the main carrier’s and manufacturer’s official stock ROMs.

What did you make of this news? Have you used CyanogenMod before and if so would this change your opinion anyway? You think is a wonderful step forward open source software or has Steve Kondik sold-out everyone’s hard work? Will they ditch the ethos of free and open source software in pursuit of the almighty dollar will this be fantastic new way to promote its ideals?

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