posted by Thom Holwerda on Tue 9th Apr 2013 10:34 UTC
IconAfter Microsoft's extortion racket has failed to stop Android, and after Oracle's crazy baseless lawsuit failed to stop Android, and after Nokia adopting Windows Phone failed to stop Android, Microsoft, Nokia, and Oracle are now grasping the next straw in their fruitless efforts to stop Android: they've filed an antitrust complaint with the EU, claiming Google unfairly bundles applications with Android.

Filed by Fairsearch, an anti-Google lobby group formed by Microsoft, Nokia, and Oracle, the complaint seems to centre around the suite of Google applications you can find on most Android phones today, such as Gmail, Maps, YouTube, and so on. The complaint claims if an OEM wants to ship one application from said suite, they are contractually obliged to ship them all, including the Play Store (a basic fact the three companies got wrong, but more on that later). On top of that, the complaint also claims that Google undercuts the market by giving Android away for free.

In a press release, the companies behind the complaint state that "Google's predatory distribution of Android at below-cost makes it difficult for other providers of operating systems to recoup investments in competing with Google's dominant mobile platform." In other words, any open source software package could be at risk of complaints like this.

This complaint is, of course, complete and utter bogus. First of all, not a single OEM wanting to make an Android device is forced to ship the suite of Google applications. In fact, devices such as the Nook and Kindle series show that it is entirely possible to build successful Android devices without carrying the Android trademark, the Google suite of applications, or even the Play Store. Similarly, many Chinese companies are developing Android-based operating systems that do not ship with Google's suite of devices either.

There are many other examples of success with Android without the Google suite of applications, most prominent of which for us here is probably CyanogenMod. CyanogenMod ROMs ship without the Google suite of applications, and CM users have to flash them separately after flashing CM itself. In spite of this, CM has been a massive success, as are many other ROMs out there that do not ship with Google's Android applications. In fact, Google employees have even helped CyanogenMod in the past.

This is possible because Android has been designed to be modular from the very start. Virtually every component can be replaced by OEMs and users alike. Virtually every major OEM ships their own Android skin, launcher, and applications, and even something like Facebook and HTC can ship a device with a Facebook launcher, and there are even Android-certified devices on which Bing is the default search engine.

In order to receive the Android trademark and be able to ship the Play Store pre-installed, you have to comply with the Android compatibility program by following the Compatibility Definition Document. This document is identical in nature to the Windows Logo Program, and defines the minimum hardware specifications and components your device must carry in order to carry the Android trademark and ship the Play Store pre-installed.

If you want to take it up a notch, and want to ship Google's suite of Android applications, you have to comply with a separate, non-public program. This program is identical to Microsoft Signature, which also requires those wanting to ship devices with the Signature label to install a suite of Microsoft applications.

The key here is that neither of these are required. You can ship an Android device without Play and the Android trademark, and without the Google Android applications. Similarly, you can ship computers without the Windows Logo certification, and without Signature. You may have noticed that Android devices without Play are far, far more common than PCs without the Windows Logo certification, mostly thanks to the likes of Amazon.

All in all, this complaint has so many holes in it that it's hard to take seriously. For instance, it already gets the most basic of things wrong by claiming that in order to get Play you need to install the whole suite of Google Android applications, which is just plain wrong. If Microsoft, Nokia, and Oracle get something as basic and out-in-the-open as this wrong, it's hard to imagine the rest of the complaint will have undergone better scrutiny and proofreading.

The fact of the matter is that Microsoft, Nokia, and Oracle are free to ship Android devices with Play and the Google applications. They are free to ship Android devices with Play, but without the Google applications. They are free to ship Android devices without any of them, but won't be able to use the Android trademark. In fact, they are even free to cherry-pick whatever parts of the Android Open Source Project they want, and build their own custom device that still runs Android applications but comes bundled with Microsoft, Nokia, and Oracle technologies at the system level.

In other words, the complaint is complete and utter bogus, and is based on absolutely nothing. If this is all they can come up with, Nokia and Microsoft are in even bigger trouble on the mobile front than I thought.

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