Unlike its rivals, Google makes the source code for its popular Android operating system publicly available. Anyone can download it and customize it for use on their mobile phone, tablet, television, automobile, and so on. This time, however, the search giant has decided to delay the distribution of Android 3.0 (codenamed Honeycomb), at least for the foreseeable future.

"To make our schedule to ship the tablet, we made some design tradeoffs," Andy Rubin, Android's co-founder and now vice president of engineering at Google, told BusinessWeek. "We didn't want to think about what it would take for the same software to run on phones. It would have required a lot of additional resources and extended our schedule beyond what we thought was reasonable. So we took a shortcut."

Rubin claims that if Google were to open-source the code now, as it has with other versions of Android at similar periods in their development, it would not be able to prevent developers from putting the software on phones "and creating a really bad user experience. We have no idea if it will even work on phones."

In the mobile OS wars, Google has portrayed its platform as the open alternative to proprietary software, developed by the three other big technology giants: Research In Motion, Apple, and Microsoft. This decision doesn't really fall under the open-source mantra, but Rubin argues that "Android is [still] an open-source project" and that "we have not changed our strategy." It's not clear when Google will finally offer up Honeycomb to the community, but Rubin did say that "the team is hard at work looking at what it takes to get this running on other devices."

This news doesn't mean tablets already loaded with Android 3.0 will stop shipping: Google made specific agreements with its hardware partners and it's not giving up on them. All this means is that the platform isn't getting released to the open source community, so programmers and hardware vendors that want to create their own Honeycomb build for existing and new products will have to wait. The search giant is trying to avoid what happened with previous Android releases: the OS ended up being put on devices it really wasn't ready for, and it made Google look bad.