Google to Open-Source Android App Inventor

Google's App Inventor is a free online tool that lets you build your own apps, for smartphones running its Android operating system. It doesn't require any programming experience, so you don't need to type a single line of code; just fit pieces together like in a puzzle.

Android is open-source, which means that the programming code is available online for free, for anyone who wants to take it and make something with it. App Inventor, however, is not, meaning that those who use it are dependent on Google's good graces to keep it open.

The bad news for App Inventor fans: Google's good graces are running out. The company has announced that it will take App Inventor down within the next 90 days. But the good news is that it has also said it will make the programming code open-source, so that anyone can use it on their own. It will also give special attention to "support[ing] the educational use of App Inventor."

Educational use? What's that mean?

A lot of high school computer classes use App Inventor to learn the basic concepts of programming, like how an app works behind the scenes, without getting hands dirty with code. Judging by the comments on Google's announcement, a lot of teachers and students are upset by Google's decision to take App Inventor down. Perhaps Google edited in its intent to support schools after the fact.

Can I still get started using App Inventor?

Yes, but keep in mind that Google's official App Inventor site is going to shut down in the next few months.

What do I do then?

Google will have someplace where you can download the open-source code to App Inventor, along with instructions for how to install it on your own web server.

I don't have a web server, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't understand the instructions.

It's possible that somebody else likes App Inventor enough that he or she will create a new public version for others to use. That's what happened to Etherpad after Google bought it out; the Etherpad code was open-sourced, and pretty soon afterwards a bunch of public Etherpad sites opened up.

Can I use App Inventor to make and sell apps on the Android Market?

The App Inventor FAQ says no, you can't. But it's a well-known secret that you can perfectly well, as long as you know how to turn the file App Inventor creates into one that the Android Market will accept. Fortunately, there are a bunch of tutorials online that explain how to do this. Click here to read one of them.



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