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Selasa, 28 Februari 2012

OS Licensing and Firewalls: That's Not the Point

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OS Licensing and Firewalls: That's Not the Point

I see where Andy Rubin said Google is building a "firewall" between the Android team and Motorola Mobility (link).  That's exactly what we called it when Palm licensed out its OS, and actually the firewall worked pretty well.  I'm sure Google can and will prevent information leaks between the Android team and the Motorola team.  Those teams do not work in the same buildings (many of them are not even in the same state), so that's pretty easy to do.

Most PalmOS licensees didn't have big worries about our firewall.  They wanted to know it was in place, and they were careful about sharing information with us, but we were able to work together.  The reality is that if your OS is selling well, the licensees will put up with almost anything (look at the early history of Microsoft if you doubt me).  And if sales slow down, no amount of firewalling will keep them loyal.  Look at the, uh, more recent history of Microsoft in mobile.

The place where Palm had trouble (okay, one of the places) was that it could not figure out what to do when the financial interests of the OS conflicted with the financial interests of the hardware team.  It wasn't about the firewall, it was about the corporate business goals.  To put it in Google terms, what happens when a change to Android will hurt sales at Motorola Mobility?

Let's make up an example: Suppose that Motorola needs a new feature in the OS to support its next-generation product line.  It has already started building the new devices, and has...say, $200 million in parts already ordered to build them.  The orders cannot be canceled, and the parts will become obsolete if not used quickly.  The Android team has trouble implementing the feature, and realizes that it will have to choose between the feature that Motorola needs and another feature that HTC needs for its next-generation products.  It's a zero-sum game; there are only enough engineers to produce one of the features.  Who wins?  Will Google accept a writedown of $200 million to protect its promise to HTC?

This is not a theoretical question; tradeoffs like that happen all the time when you're developing an OS.

Want to guess how those questions were answered when Palm hardware and Palm OS were in the same company?

I think that's the real reason why Palm and PalmSource had to be separated, and I think that's the real question Android licensees are thinking about.  Not is their information safe, but would Larry Page accept a financial bloodbath at Motorola to protect other Android licensees?  If Google has addressed that question, I haven't seen the answer.  It's a very hard question for any CEO because it pits the interests of Android licensees against Google shareholders.

None of this will drive away Android licensees, but I think it will affect the strength of their interest in also working with Microsoft -- which, when it abuses its licensees, tends to abuse all of them equally.

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