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Google Android 'five weeks' from MIPS port

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Motorola has denied putting Android on a set-top box. But it's only matter of time before someone else does the set-top thing with Google's, um, mobile OS.

As it announced Thursday, Embedded Alley is porting Google's Android stack to the MIPS microprocessor architecture, widely used in set-top boxes, HDTVs, and other devices you'd never mistake for a cell phone.

Google originally built Android for Apple-battling mobiles, coding the platform for an ARM-based chipset from Qualcomm. The world's first Googlephone - the T-Mobile G1 - is a Qualcomm device. But clearly, the stack is destined for a healthy life beyond the handheld.

As countless outfits entertain the idea of moving Android onto an ARM-based netbook, Chinese manufacturer SkyTone has actually announced one, a $200 to $250 machine dubbed the Alpha 680. And Acer has shown off an Intel Atom-based netbook.

Embbedded Alley has yet to complete its MIPS port, but chief executive Paul Staudacher told us that an end date is less than five weeks away. Before the end of May, the company will release its Android kit for building devices using the low-cost Alchemy chips fashioned by the Cupertino superconductor operation, RMI Corp.

"You'll certainly see people building connective media devices in the home, which MIPS has historically been so strong in," Staudacher said, pointing to set-top boxes and HDTVs. "We've already had many customers contact us to say that they're going to build these kinds of devices and that Android is an important thing to embrace here.

"There's more than a promise of a growing ecosystem. There's evidence that it's there and that adopting is happening." Other devices might include in-car systems, hand-held video players, and even medical tools.

William Weinberg - a Linux-obsessed consultant who's working Embedded on the MIPS port - argued that Android will become a kind of de facto Linux standard for both the netbook and the embedded markets. "Linux is doing exceedingly well in the embedded market," he told us.

"What's missing is that although there's a lot of basic commonality at the base of the stack - with Linux kernels and base libraries and some middleware - it's not sufficient commonality to be able to share applications."

In order to achieve such "commonality," he said, developers will flock to Android, an unusually extensive stack that's, well, backed by someone like Google.

"Android, being a tall stack with rich middleware for display and multimedia and a number of application engines and even applications, it provides so much for developers. It's a much more meaningful task to say 'I'm writing an Android application.' That's what's going on in mobile and that's what's making it attractive to manufacturers like RMI."

Android was open sourced under an Apache license that allows anyone to make use of it without giving code back to the community. But Staudacher said that Embedded Alley will eventually return its MIPS port to the appropriate repositories. "It's not the short term goal but it is our long-term plan," he said. "This [embedded Android market] is going to happen with our without us, so we might as well take the leadership position." ®

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