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Should Google spin Android into a foundation?

The difference between the OHA and a conventional software foundation is that for Android to move forward it must first be expressed in phones, in hardware. The chicken-and-egg question here yields an easy answer. It's the chicken. An egg, the software, is pretty meaningless if it's just sitting on a server.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

Google faces a conundrum.

How does it maintain control of Android and at the same time build a community of interests in which developers can seek profit?

The easy answer is to turn the Open Handset Alliance into the Android Foundation. (Fans of the late Isaac Asimov will recognize this fellow even in French.)

Critics love to claim that Eclipse is just an IBM front, but that's a cheap shot, based on the fact that IBM gains huge benefits from Eclipse without having to pay all the bills there.

Foundations can be a great way to organize vendors who have a common purpose but divergent business plans. The Linux Foundation is a good example of this.

But there are risks in an Android Foundation, as Symbian's David Wood said when they were going open source a year ago.

Forks are one.

Foundations lead naturally to forks. Every vendor who sells an "enhanced" version of Eclipse tools is pushing a proprietary fork. There are dozens of Linux distros, each of which forks the code in some way to provide added value.

How much Android forking can Google stand before the value starts dribbling through its fingers? Like to see some stuck-up Microsoft search engine sitting on an Android phone? (Make your blood boil? Well I should say.)

There is, of course, another risk in going the Foundation route. It doesn't always work. Witness LiMo, which Motorola recently abandoned for Android. Witness Moblin, which Intel gave to the Linux Foundation. Witness Symbian itself for that matter.

The difference between the OHA and a conventional software foundation is that for Android to move forward it must first be expressed in phones, in hardware. The chicken-and-egg question here yields an easy answer. It's the chicken. An egg, the software, is pretty meaningless if it's just sitting on a server.

This fact reduces the threat of a fork. The value of any Android handset lies in its compatibility. Without that it might as well be a Windows Mobile set.

So long as Google is the biggest investor in Android, then, it's probably doing the right thing by avoiding the foundation model. But at some point the rest of the ecosystem needs to grow up for Google to get its investment back.

So if Google does set up an Android Foundation some time down the road, know that it's a sign of success, and that it no longer has to push this rock up the hill all by itself.

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