Mobility

Microsoft and Cyanogen: What does this partnership mean to Google and Android?

Cyanogen and Microsoft partnering to develop an Android bundle, sans Google. Will it work? Jack Wallen chimes in.

Recently it was announced that Microsoft would be partnering with that (in)famous group of developers who have been creating Android ROMS for a very long time. Their goal? To provide a bundled suite of apps that would enable Cyanogen to break the ties with Google. The end result is to prove that Android/Google pairing is not the only way to have your Android mobile platform.

What this partnership will do is allow the bundling of apps like Outlook, Office, Skype, Bing, OneDrive, and OneNote with the Android platform.

For anyone that depends upon the Microsoft ecosystem, this sounds like it could be a major win. Imagine having the flexibility of Android and the business-centric power of Microsoft ... all on the same device.

When you dig deep into the muck and mire of this, your first question is "Why?" The answer is pretty simple, yet at the same time incredibly complex. Cyanogen wants to make Android as open as possible. The company wants to be able to offer users an Android platform not tethered to Google, its apps, and its licensing.

But why Microsoft? Why jump from one juggernaut to another, from one lockdown to another? It's really clear why Microsoft would make this deal: their mobile platform is going nowhere. In order to get their fingers embedded in the mobile pie, they have to embrace other platforms. And what better way to embrace mobility than to get in league with the leader—Android. By working with Cyanogen, Microsoft effectively gets their own version of Android—we'll call it MS Android.

From my perspective, Cyanogen partnering with Microsoft on Android doesn't open the platform, it closes it up tight. This is especially true considering we're not talking about simply adding a few apps, we're talking about bundling. Microsoft's history of bundling is not littered with praise for being "open". Instead, what this looks like to me is an attempt at Cyanogen turning its back on Google to say "We'll show you!"

There's one hitch in the plan—something Cyanogen will have a devil of a time getting around:

Google Services.

What of an Android device without the Google Play Store? Will they add Microsoft's sad little app store? The Amazon App store? That's where the "openness" of this deal falls very short (I'm not speaking to licensure here). As it stands, I can use Google apps and I can use MS apps ... all on the same platform. With the Cyanogen/Microsoft bundle, there will be no choice—you use MS apps and you live with it. This was the same issue that plagued (and doomed) the Amazon Fire Phone.

Yes, the CyanogenMod for this bundle will be open source. And yes, Microsoft may be working with a few more open licenses. But this does nothing for the universality of the platform. The licensure is not the issue. Anyone that has followed me knows where I stand on open source. In this instance, whether the platform is 100% open or 100% closed source doesn't matter. An Android platform without the Google Play Store is destined to fail. And Bing on Android? After using the Microsoft search alternative on Android for a few days, people will beg to have Google Now back.

As to the question "What does this partnership mean to Google and Android"? The answer is "very little". Without Google Services, the Android platform has repeated fallen short. And considering you can already use Microsoft apps on Android (there's even work on porting Cortana to Android now—a hack called Portana that works with Microsoft proxies to reach the Cortana servers), this MS/Cyanogen bundle will be nothing more than a blip on Google's radar.

I get it, there are a lot of people out there that do not like Google. Just like there are those that hold very little regard for Microsoft, or Apple, or Red Hat, or Canonical—the dislike for Google is strong. That doesn't mean the public is clamoring for a version of Android stripped of Google services.

If Cyanogen wants to do something useful—something the public would really like to hang their hat on, create a ROM that is as easy to install as an app, that offers a pure version of Android (similar to what is shipped on the Nexus line of devices). But even then, an overwhelming amount of end users have no idea what a ROM is, how to install it, or why it would benefit them.

Android is not, and never has been, just for Google. Thing is, Google does Android really, really well—better than anyone else. And the truth of the matter is, the average user actually trusts Google and has found the Android platform—as delivered by Google—to be the platform of choice for nearly 85% of global consumers.

What do you think? Is the Cyanogen/Microsoft bundle something you'd use? Or is it just a blip on the mobile radar that will quickly disappear into the depths of an already turbulent sea?

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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