Maybe it’s a good thing Xiaomi doesn’t yet offer smartphones tuned for North American LTE networks; the company has a bit of a problem respecting software licenses, it seems.
If you’re not familiar with the particulars of free software this can get confusing real quick, so let me know if I lose you. Basically, if you thought that all those wonderful custom ROMs available on XDA were massive reverse-engineered hacks you’d be correct in some cases, not so correct in most. Android, if you didn’t know, runs on the Linux kernel, and the Linux kernel is governed by a very specific software license called the GPL, or GNU Public License. What’s GNU? GNU’s Not UNIX—recursive acronym, long story, not really relevant to what we’re discussing here…
What is very relevant is the terms of the GPL, which allow for any and all modifications to the Linux kernel (for example) provided that those changes are made public for the benefit of all users. Thus, there’s a reason why Android modders tend to gravitate towards Nexus devices and, more recently, the OnePlus One: Google and OnePlus (actually Cyanogen, Inc.) release the source code for their hardware, which ROM makers use to build their firmware, which modders then download and flash. Everybody wins.
Except Xiaomi users, it seems—on the cusp of the new Mi4 they’re still waiting on the source code for the current flagship Mi3. The official explanation from the company goes like this:
“The kernel source code for these devices contains a significant amount of source code that will be used in two upcoming models. If we release the kernel source in its current state, we will be revealing more than we would like to about future devices. We will change this going forward, but right now it is a constraint we have to live with. We hope you can understand this position, and we’re very sorry for the frustration we may have caused!”
Cool story, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that Xiaomi are in direct violation of the terms of the software that helped make them the 45 billion dollar company they are today. Perhaps this is another reason why they haven’t yet set up shop in the West…?
I should point out that Xiaomi isn’t completely evil. They have released the source code for some of their earlier devices, along with the work they’ve done on other hardware from the likes of Samsung. But they need to be in compliance with the GPL, because the GPL is a big reason why Linux—and Android—are so great!
Some further reading if you’re interested: