Microsoft Argues That Android Isn't 'Free'

As the launch of Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 devices nears, the company has been telling those who will listen that one of its prime competitors' mobile operating system -- Google's Android -- is more costly than its own offering, even though the open source OS is free.

Earlier this week, industry commentator Henry Blodget published a short list of "gotchas" that he said a Microsoft source trotted out to explain how "free" isn't really free when it's Android, while Windows Phone 7, at a reported cost to OEMs of $15, is more economical.

High on the source's list is the question of whether Android infringes on any other company's intellectual property (IP). That's illustrated by the lawsuit filed last month by Oracle, which now owns the rights to Java, against Google for patent infringement in its Android operating system.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer also briefly raised the infringement red flag during an interview with CNN Money regarding Android in May.

"There's nothing free about Android," Ballmer said at the time. "There's an intellectual property royalty due on that and whether they charge for that or not is their decision."

Microsoft, on the other hand, indemnifies its hardware and software partners against infringement suits and has for years, a favorite talking point of company executives.

Of course, Google disagrees whole heartedly with that interpretation.

"Android is a free, open source mobile platform that any developer can use, and any handset manufacturer can install," a Google spokesperson said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.

Blodget's source didn't stop with legal issues, however.

Among the technical issues that help add cost to Android, for example, is the fact that the operating system is open source and, therefore, one version can easily be incompatible with another, according to Blodget's Microsoft source.

"OEMs are not using the stock Android build," Blodget said.

Also, mobile devices, like PCs, need device drivers, which command the engineering resources of Android OEMs.

"The Windows Phone 7 'chassis strategy' allows devices to be created faster, saving significant engineering cost. It's essentially plug and play, with device drivers authored by Microsoft," Blodget wrote.

Beyond that are issues such as distributing updates, which Microsoft handles with an automatic update feature. Then there are licensing expenses for expected extras on the phone such as the ability to edit Office documents.

In addition, Windows Phone 7 has a standardized user interface, something Android implementations don't have, Blodget noted.

A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment on arguments about the real cost of Android or on what the company charges OEMs for use of Windows Phone 7.

"We don't have any comment on the other factors [and] we do not disclose details of our Windows Phone partner licensing agreements," the spokesperson said.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.


Google, Android, Microsoft, Windows Phone 7, mobile os