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Android's Biggest Fan Is Microsoft, of Course

By Katherine Noyes
Oct 31, 2011 5:00 AM PT

It's been obvious for some time now that Microsoft is a big Android fan, thanks to the tidy sums of cash the software giant has managed to extract from the companies that use it.

Android's Biggest Fan Is Microsoft, of Course

What wasn't necessarily apparent until recently, however, is just how far Redmond's devotion goes.

With last week's addition of Compal Electronics to Microsoft's Android licensing lineup, it's becoming truly clear. It doesn't seem premature, in fact, to declare Ballmer et al. Android's biggest fans *ever*, so passionately dedicated have they become.

Compal was the 10th victim of Redmond's lucrative new licensing line of business, of course, and its acquiescence means that Microsoft now gets a piece of more than half of all Android devices out there.

If that won't inspire a little adoration, Linux Girl doesn't know what will!

Redmond's lawyers have surely been doing the Happy Dance all week. As for those in the Linux blogosphere? Not so much.

'A License to Kill WinPhone 7 Dead'

"I think this is yet another data point (as if anyone needs any more proof) that Microsoft's mobile strategy is on the ropes, if not down for the count, and can't compete in the marketplace," opined Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site.

"And just to rub salt into the wound, even if Microsoft were able to extract Danegeld for every Android device manufactured by anyone for sale anywhere instead of just the US market, every license sold is one less WinPhone sale, one more mobile device using Google instead of Bing, one more customer lost to Android apps, one less customer for Microsoft's mobile gaming and other services," Hudson added.

"Microsoft is basically selling a 'license to kill' -- to kill WinPhone7 dead," she asserted. "This is not the way to get the critical mass of users needed to start a 'virtuous feedback cycle' for your product."

'Like Squeezing a Chocolate Bar'

Eventually, Microsoft is "going to have to bite the bullet and start giving away WinPhone licenses, and even that is probably too little, too late," Hudson told Linux Girl. "Apple and Android have a solid lock on the market."

Making matters worse is that "licensing fees are real balancing act," she pointed out. "The strategy of trying to collect royalties is like squeezing a chocolate bar -- squeeze too hard and you're going to have a sticky mess on your hands as manufacturers look for alternatives."

Apple has shown that "it's possible to switch the underlying OS -- they've done it several times," Hudson noted. "In a worst-case scenario, BSD can replace Android's Linux underpinnings."

Meanwhile, "to milk the current situation as long as possible, Microsoft will have to be very careful not to exceed the manufacturers' collective pain threshold," Hudson warned. "But even that's a loser's game over the long term."

The Problem With Patents

Roberto Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor, saw it differently.

"If the Android manufacturers feel it is to their benefit to pay the license fees, we should assume that they do have a good reason for doing so, and not assume that Microsoft is milking Android," Lim opined.

After all, "HTC paying license fees to Microsoft did not prevent it from having a banner year," he pointed out.

Still, software patents -- which are the foundation for Microsoft's current licensing strategy -- "do seem too broad," Lim added. "If we applied this to technology that has developed in the past 30 years, it would have restricted innovation."

'Something Is Wrong With the System'

Imagine, for example, "if someone had patented clicking an image displayed on a screen to launch an application, or manipulating a television set with a remote device, or adjusting volume by sliding an indicator displayed on a screen," he mused.

"There is a need to really look at the entire system of software patents and see to what extent they are necessary to protect investments in research and development for new ideas and to what extent patents are sought to try to create a monopoly," Lim told Linux Girl. "Apple, for one, appears to be trying to utilize broad patents to create a monopoly."

Today's patent wars, in fact, are similar to domain name squatting, he concluded: "There are companies that do not manufacture anything, have no product other than patents, and obtained patents for the sole purpose of seeking royalties. When you start to see things like this, you really know something is wrong with the system."

'A House of Cards'

Indeed, "M$'s taxation of Android/Linux is an anticompetitive act propped up by bogus software patents," agreed blogger Robert Pogson. "It's all a house of cards which will fall when SCOTUS finally rules them illegal."

For proof that software patents don't promote innovation, one need only look at the "gridlock" that results, Pogson explained.

"Look at Oracle v Google," he said. "The judge is very busy and has to find a whole month to deal with it on top of the weeks already spent on the matter. The end result is that the legal fees will amount to more than the value of the so-called patents.

"In the high-tech world, patents are inhibitors of innovation," he concluded. "These guys are not working out new ideas in their garages."

'They Spend Billions on R&D'

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet took a different view.

"Android DOES infringe!" hairyfeet told Linux Girl. "Have you SEEN how many patents MSFT has? They have tons, folks -- they spend billions on R&D cranking out more every year."

That, in turn, is why "FOSS needs badly to kill 'free as in beer' and make it, as RMS has said, 'free as in freedom,' because you simply have no way to build a sizable patent war chest," hairyfeet asserted.

'Have a Scary War Chest or Pay Up'

"Look at some of the companies that have died, like Novell -- how much better would it have been for FOSS if ALL their patents were now property of the community?" he added. "This is why, even when they were suing each other, AMD and Intel had cross licensing agreements, and even though they are rivals, AMD and Nvidia have them as well."

There are simply too many patents, in other words, to deal with them any other way, hairyfeet concluded: "You either have a scary enough war chest of your own that rivals want to do cross licensing, or you pay up -- your choice."

Google's absence from Microsoft's licensing campaign is "a strong sign that Microsoft is afraid of litigation in this area but trying to find some way of monetizing the competition," suggested Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.

'Every Incentive to Fight to the End'

"In other words, only the devices are licensed, not the allegedly infringing operating system," he added. "The goal of litigation against Motorola and others is solely to flesh out licensing deals and not with the intent to bring anything to trial."

Travers wonders, in fact, "if Google acquired Motorola Mobility solely to take over the patent litigation," he told Linux Girl. "This increases the stakes considerably, and decreases the chance of an 11th hour, out-of-court settlement based solely on device manufacturing."

Google has "every incentive to fight to the end," he pointed out, "and Microsoft has important incentives not to."

In the long run, "I think the only lawsuit that matters is the Motorola one," Travers concluded.

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter.

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