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Google Releases Android SDK, Offers $10 Million Developer Challenge

Developers will need an x86-based computer running Windows XP or Windows Vista, Mac OS 10.4.8 or later, or the Linux Ubuntu Dapper Drake OS.

Pressing forward in its campaign to transform the mobile industry, Google on Monday announced the first release of the software development kit (SDK) for Android, the mobile-device operating system announced last week.

Comprising the set of tools that software developers will use to create applications for Android-based phones, the SDK is viewed as an important milestone for the Open Handset Alliance, the industry consortium organized by Google to bring innovative new mobile devices to market faster and cheaper.

Sweetening the pot, Google also said it will fund the $10 million Android Developer Challenge to award cash prizes to developers who build the most appealing and innovative programs based on Android. Selected by a panel of judges coming largely from the companies involved in the Open Handset Alliance, the winning apps will bring their creators cash prizes of up to $275,000.

Google capped months of speculation about a "gPhone" designed and built by the Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant last week with its announcement of the new mobile software platform, based on technology from Google's acquisition of Android in 2005.

Based on the Linux 2.6 kernel, Android includes an operating system, a full set of libraries, a multimedia user interface, and a complete set of phone applications, all of which are open and available to third-party developers.

"We're challenging developers to stretch their imaginations and skills to leverage the full capabilities of this new platform and to create something amazing," Andy Rubin, Google's director of mobile platforms, said in a statement today.

The SDK documentation provides some of the technical detail on Android for which the open-source developer community has been waiting. The platform features the Dalvik virtual machine "to maximize application performance, portability, and security," and the developer kit includes the Eclipse plug-in, an integrated development environment.

Developers will need an x86-based computer running Windows XP or Vista, Mac OS 10.4.8 or later, or the Linux Ubuntu Dapper Drake OS. Also required: Eclipse 3.2 or later, with Java Development Tools and either the Android SDK's plugin or Javac 1.5 or 1.6.

The full platform will be released next year under version 2 of the Apache Software License (ASL). The choice of ASL, a "permissive" license that allows proprietary development and distribution using open-source code, has been a somewhat controversial one in the open-source community. Many hard-line open sourcers favor the more restrictive General Public License from the Free Software Foundation, which requires all modifications and enhancements to the original code to be open as well.

Using ASL is clearly a choice by Google to foster commercial development of devices based on Android. By making it possible to use open-source code without having to release the results as open source, permissive licenses encourage for-profit ventures (like handset makers and mobile application developers) to use the platform to make and sell software products.

Applications for the Android Developer Challenge will be accepted beginning January 2. A first round of 50 winners will each receive $25,000 "to fund further development." Those finalists will then be winnowed to 20, with 10 receiving $100,000 awards and 10 getting grand prizes of $275,000.

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