With the announcement of Android, the Google open source mobile platform, there has been breathless talk of Google taking out the “locked” cellphone market with a Linux OS version. But we all know there are many open source Linux OS mobile versions already out there, so grabbing one and putting some stuff into it isn’t really that hard. In fact, one wag I know had this little joke:
How many Google Ph.D’s does it take to create a mobile operating system? Answer – 1000. One to download the OS, and 999 to add “Copyright Google”.
Hmm, ever since the bright kids at Google were accused of appropriating code to build their social networking site Orkut (see Google Stole Code? Is Social Networking that Hard?), many techies have expressed a somewhat low opinion of Google’s technical expertise, especially when doing the actual work with all those incredible resources in people and money is probably a lot easier than “borrowing” somebody else’s “crufty” code and figuring it out. Sometimes, by the way, “crufty” means “I can’t figure out your code because I’m too stupid so I’m going to run it down”. I got that a lot with 386BSD. But given the incredible brainpower Google has gathered, I would think they could not only eventually figure it out, but maybe do a better job from the beginning…
So if Google is so full of smart people, why I am asked did they just take a Linux distro and hack it? Why didn’t they give us a “from the ground up” genius OS?
Google is full of smart people, and Linux (and BSD and Windows BTW) are not optimal OS’s for mobile computing and they know that. They also do have the resources to completely change the paradigm of open source and mobile computing but choose not to. That’s a fact.
But choosing a Linux distro and entering the mobile space is the perfect feint if a very large and very rich company has decided to take on Microsoft in the OS market, but is worried given their rival’s monopoly that they already would look like a loser if they competed directly. By cudgeling one of the Unix lookalikes and stuffing it into a small device, they can appear like they are a real contender in a big space and work their way into the heart of Microsoft’s defenses.
So it is a smart strategy. Too bad people only think tactically nowadays – they’re missing the real battle.