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So Google is working with some big industry players on an open-source operating system for mobile phones. The assumption is that developers are waiting for a completely open OS to change the mobile world.

The Open Handset Alliance is to release a platform called Android. This is named for, and based on the technology of, a company acquired by Google in 2005. Android consists of a Linux-based kernel and various components from which manufacturers can pick and choose what they want to include on their handsets, all without charge.

Google reckons it can make money just by encouraging mobile use of the Internet. the more users there are, the more money Google can make, so there will be no Google branding on the platform or handsets, and Google has no intention of making money directly from the project.

The same can't be said for the other Alliance members, a list which includes silicon and handset manufacturers as well as network operators and software providers.

The silicon companies, including Qualcomm, Intel and TI, obviously want to see Android working on their chips, so their membership comes as no surprise.

Four manufacturers are signed up: HTC, LG, Motorola and Samsung. All are known for flirting with Linux, but Microsoft must be slightly annoyed to see HTC, a long-time champion of Windows Mobile, so prominently listed.

The network operators include China Mobile, which comes as no surprise given the popularity of Linux in its home market. T-Mobile and Telefonica are more of a surprise, given that both companies have exclusives on the iPhone (in Germany and the UK respectively) which would seem to be an obvious competitor.

The software members are mostly those who want to see their client software on mobile devices so they can sell services to mobile uses. However, the inclusion of Esmertec and Aplix (both providers of mobile Java) would indicate that manufacturers aren't going to get their platform completely free.

Much noise is being made about reducing the cost of smart phones by providing the OS for free, as Android will do. But the Java Virtual Machine won't be free, nor will the MPEG codecs, messaging clients or half a dozen patent-protected applications we've come to expect on a mobile phone. So Android won't be able to compete on cost alone, and customers shouldn't expect a massive reduction in cost when the first handsets become available late in 2008.

Android will have to compete with Symbian, Windows Mobile, and the various other Linux flavours, on features and flexibility, and we won't know more about that until the SDK is released on the 12th November. The Alliance is promising that all applications will have access to all functions, which could throw up some interesting security issues, but they'll have to do more than that to demonstrate their superiority to the incumbent offerings. ®

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