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Will Google Pull The Plug On 'Android?' Don't Bet On It

As anyone following this week's Nokia-Symbian hoopla already knows, Google is still several months away from launching its Android smartphone platform. Thanks to another open-source mobile technology initiative, however, we can get a pretty good idea of how Google expects Android to fit into the mobile-technology picture -- and, in the process, see why Google is unlikely to abandon the project.
As anyone following this week's Nokia-Symbian hoopla already knows, Google is still several months away from launching its Android smartphone platform. Thanks to another open-source mobile technology initiative, however, we can get a pretty good idea of how Google expects Android to fit into the mobile-technology picture -- and, in the process, see why Google is unlikely to abandon the project.Openmoko actually consists of two related projects: a Linux-based operating system and a hardware platform. The project's third-generation Neo Freerunner platform, like its predecessors, is designed to be as open as possible: Openmoko provides CAD diagrams of its hardware designs, and it even sells debugging boards through its Web site.

While a number of handset vendors and mobile operators currently offer Linux-powered smartphones, this is a market where vendors tend to define "open" as "less closed." Freerunner, by comparison, runs exclusively open-source components, from its Linux kernel and core services, UI toolkits (notably GTK and Qtopia), and application frameworks to its end-user applications.

(If you're interested in a good overview of how Openmoko Linux is put together that doesn't get too technical, you'll find it here.)

This week, Openmoko reached a milestone that many people never thought it would see: It started shipping the Neo Freerunner to distributors in Germany, France, and India. That's an impressive feat, considering that the first Android handsets may not ship until early 2009 -- and Google, unlike Openmoko, still does not have a firm commitment from a single handset vendor.

But never mind the delays, or Nokia's surprise decision to open-source Symbian, or growing vendor support for the rival LiMO mobile-Linux initiative. If Google wants to push really open platforms like the Neo Freerunner from fringe status into the mobile-technology mainstream -- and that is exactly what Google wants -- then Android gives it the perfect vehicle to take them there.