The (Not) Open Garden: Using Open As a Buzzword


While browsing though the Google Play Store on my Android device this evening, I came across an interesting application that was featured prominently. “Open Garden” advertises itself as a free mesh networking tool:

Your laptop can now access mobile Internet coming from your phone anywhere it has no Wi-Fi. Like tethering, but with no buttons to press and nothing to configure.

When more devices running Open Garden are nearby, they all connect into a mesh network. To detect nearby peers, we use location services. That includes GPS, if no other location service is available. Connections can be initiated manually using NFC – just tap the devices together!

Open Garden is a wireless mesh networking application that turns any of your device into a portable hotspot. When installed on your laptop and your Android phone Open Garden can let you use from your computer softwares like Skype, any mail client or browser and let you access Internet on the go as if you were at home.

Google Play Store – Open Garden

This is not the kind of software I personally need, but I’m interested in anything open, so I thought I would take a look…

Orphaned Linux

I head over to the Open Garden site to find out more about the service and download the PC side application. This is where I ran into the first problem…there was no Linux build.

I checked my calendar to make sure, and just as I thought, it was still 2012. Maybe my perspective is just off because I haven’t used a proprietary operating system in over a decade now, but it’s very hard for me to take any kind of startup seriously when they fail to deliver a Linux build of their software. We live in a world where even Steam is coming to Linux, so what’s the problem?

Heading over to the “Open Garden” forums, I saw that I was certainly not the only one who was a little concerned about this. There were a number of topics in the forum about the lack of Linux support, with many people asking how they could advertise themselves as being open if the user wasn’t even able to run their OS of choice?

A few very legitimate points were brought up in the forum as well, such as the fact that a Linux build (especially ARM compatible) would allow people to run “Open Garden” nodes on small embedded devices like OpenWRT routers, greatly increasing its usefulness in situations where proper infrastructure might not be available. At least one user mentioned building a solar powered mesh network with re-purposed consumer routers, if only “Open Garden” would get a Linux build out the door.

Where’s The Open?

Alright, so there was no Linux version of their software. This meant I couldn’t use the product fully, but I wasn’t ready to knock the whole concept just yet. But at least it was open source, right? That meant all this project really needed was some exposure to the right people, and the community might take up the challenge of bringing it to Linux.

So I decided to check out the source, see what it’s licensed under…but…wait. I can’t find the source. How can the “Open Garden” not make its open source code easily visible?

The terrible answer came after a few minutes checking online, the source for the “Open Garden” isn’t available, it’s proprietary software! Reading the terms and conditions that pop up when you first start “Open Garden” for Android, they make it very clear as to just how open they intend on being:

You are permitted to make copies of the Software solely for backup and archival purposes. You may not make any other copies of the Software or otherwise reproduce the Software in any matter nor may you transfer or assign your rights in the Software under this license. You may not decompile or otherwise attempt to gain access to the source code for the Software, or reverse-engineer its operation.

That’s right, don’t “attempt to gain access to the source code” for this “open” service.

So what part is open, exactly? It doesn’t run on my operating system, and you haven’t opened up the source or even the protocol so somebody else can get it working. The only thing I see open here is the wallets of the venture capitalists who got duped into supporting this thing.

Open Marketing

Looking through the product’s site, I started to see a very worrying pattern emerging. The main page mentions “crowdsourcing” your Internet connection, and the theme of being “open” and running on “all your devices” is everywhere on their site and promotional literature.

I started to wonder: “Is this product was trying to capitalize on the concept of open source by invoking all the same terms and imagery of the real open source projects we love, but without actually being open?

If so, this is perhaps one of the worst perversions of open source I’ve ever seen, and I seriously hope that it’s not the start of a trend. But giving it some thought, it’s hardly surprising. Every day we cover some new open source project here on “The Powerbase”, cars, planes, beer, even flashlights, all labeled as being “open”. Have so many things become open that the real meaning of the word is lost on some of the audience? If we keep up at this rate, will the average person think “open” is just some kind of adjective synonymous with “trendy”?

The idea that we could ever open up too many things never even occurred to me. I never considered that the term might dilute itself to the point that you could just throw it around and most people would take it on face value. Maybe that’s not what’s happening here, maybe I’m completely off base, but it’s hard to fight this feeling.

I can’t confirm or deny that “Open Garden” is intentionally trying to trick users and investors into thinking this is yet another popular open source project, but I can confirm that it definitely isn’t open. For that reason alone, you won’t be reading any more about it on this site, and I would suggest any potential users take a very close look at what you’re getting from this “open” service.

Note: When writing this Editorial, I wanted to include screenshots and exact quotes from the “Open Garden” forums. Unfortunately, in a grand bit of irony, the “Open Garden” site was down for a number of hours this evening, and I was unable to visit it.

Tom Nardi

Tom is a Network Engineer with focus on GNU/Linux and open source software. He is a frequent submitter to "2600", and maintains a personal site of his projects and areas of research at: .

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  • Paige Peterson

    You failed to include in your article the fact that Open Garden doesn’t even have an iOS client developed, yet…. it is not that they are excluding operating systems on purpose, it is that Open Garden does not have the manpower to develop as quickly as the market is asking for. They are currently hiring for a Senior Software Engineer.

    • Dean Howell

      Paige, you might have missed the point of the article by a few yards. While the author is miffed at the unavailability of a Linux version, he really seems to be taking issue with your organization’s use of the word ‘open’. Saying that something is open from a marketing point of view, and actually being open, are two completely different things.

      • Paige Peterson

        An open garden is a garden that anyone can enter, yes?
        Anyone can download Open Garden app and join the network… how is that not open?

        • Vadim Peretokin

          If you’re looking at it from that way, then it’s not open in a way that not everybody can download the Open Garden app. Can an iOS user download that app? No… Can a Linux user download that app? No…

          So it’s a limited “open” already. That and “Open” really tends to mean that the software is not proprietary but is actually, truly open: available for people to expand and improve. This isn’t.

          • Paige Peterson

            Well… we simply have not had the chance to develop for these platforms yet but have definite plans for the future. This is not a purposeful limitation and truly want to have software on all platforms.

            I am trying to point out that the word “open” is subjective. We did not use it in order to mislead but rather to relate to an “open garden”… which makes sense for the app if you factor in the fact that we are looking to support all operating systems.

            I hope you understand where I am coming from…. I do know about the use of the word “open” for open source and there is a good reason for people to have the idea that we might be open source because of that very reason. It’s just this article portrays us as doing this on purpose, which is not the intention at all.

            Open source is a possibility for the future of Open Garden, but the real origin of the name comes from referencing open gardens.

          • Vadim Peretokin

            Yeah I understand what you mean as well. It’s just that there’s a part of the world where open means something else, and so that’s a bit confusing to people :)

        • Turd Garden

          Possibly the worst damage control I’ve ever seen.

          • Paige Peterson

            Thanks for the kind words.

        • hwertz

          No, anyone cannot download Open Garden and join the network… there’s no Linux version; I must point out, if it was open source, somebody would have (probably) already written a Linux version for you, keeping your program closed then complaining about lack of manpower makes me play the world’s smallest violin for you. Sorry but Open Garden is not open. I’m not one of these people who insists on using 100% open source; I’ve used the nvidia drivers, and on my netbook have the EMGD video drivers (for GMA500). But, I have an android phone and a Ubuntu netbook; my parent’s computers run Ubuntu. My desktops run gentoo or Ubuntu. So not having a Linux version of Open Garden makes it from something cool to 100% useless for me.

  • zevolev

    When the word “open” is tossed around in a name, it makes it ambiguous, I think that’s what he’s saying…

  • jgmitzen

    Here’s a simple solution: the world doesn’t need “open garden”. We already have a mesh protocol, B.A.T.M.A.N. (seriously!) and it’s already been integrated into the Linux kernel! In addition, search for “Serval project” and you’ll find that b.a.t.m.a.n. is coming to Android as well as Symbian and other OSes common in developing countries. Not only will this allow device-to-device calls (useful in rural areas and when disaster strikes and cell infrastructure is down, or even at outdoor concert events/campgrounds) but the Serval Project is also working on mesh-based file distribution, mapping, and other uses. Wikipedia is a good source for information on B.A.T.M.A.N. and I’m sure searching for it in conjunction with “Linux” will return more articles. open-mesh dot org will take you to the home of the B.A.T.M.A.N. protocol.

    In summary, Open Garden is just a closed, proprietary, limited OS version of what’s already out there, open, in full development, and even in the Linux kernel since 2.6.38. In that case, it really is just a honeypot to ensnare venture capitalists.

  • kilter

    You’re an idiot, its not claiming to be open sourced its just making your mobile network open to your laptops and other devices its a fucking catchy name get over it