Will Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android encounter multiple forks in the road? And if so, does that mean Google Android will fracture into multiple incompatible variants -- like Unix did more than two decades ago? Hmmm... The answer is yes and no. Here's why.

Some pundits are calling on Samsung to fork Android. The move, in theory, would allow the Samsung Galaxy smart phone team to better innovate ahead of the potential Apple iPhone 5 launch in late 2012 or early 2013. Meanwhile, Amazon has already forked Android for its own Kindle tablet -- and we've all seen how wildly popular Kindles have become.

Unix All Over Again (Please Say No)

But do forks mean incompatible versions of Android will emerge? Generally speaking, there's no cause for panic here folks.

Yes, we all remember the days of Unix -- where multiple variants emerged and big software vendors (i.e., Oracle) had to adjust their applications to run on each Unix variant (IBM AIX, Sun Solaris, HP-UX and the list goes on).

Software Forks Explained

Apply that example to Android, and will we soon wake up in a world where App developers have to re-write their code a bit to remain compatible across Amazon, Samsung and other Android devices?

The VAR Guy doubts it. In the case of Android, life looks pretty darn good for App developers. In the Oracle Java vs. Google Android legal feud, a jury decision issued today seems to ensure Android App developers won't need to rewrite their apps anytime soon.

In terms of the fork discussion... There are good forks, bad forks, successful forks and doomed forks. Open Source Expert David A. Wheeler points to four possible outcomes of a fork:
  1. The death of the fork (example: libc/glibc). This is by far the most common outcome; indeed, many forks never receive enough support to “die”.
  2. A re-merging of the fork (example: gcc/egcs); this is where the projects rejoin each other (though one or the other may be the dominant source of the combined effort).
  3. The death of the original (example: XFree86/X.org).
  4. Successful branching -- both succeed, typically catering to different communities (examples: GNU emacs / xemacs, OpenBSD).
For a closer look at various software project forks and their outcomes, check out this essay by Rick Moen.

Remain Calm; All Is Well

Bottom line: Android Apps developers can start re-writing their apps for multiple incompatible Android variants. So why Samsung and others may fork Android, there's no cause for panic among Android ISVs (independent software vendors) that want to blanket all Android devices with their apps. At least, that's The VAR Guy's spin on the situation.