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Microsoft's Cyanogen Bet: Fork You, Android!

The name Cyanogen is well-known to just about anyone who's ever toyed with the idea of rooting his or her Android device. The CyanogenMod is one of the most ubiquitous non-Google Android builds out there, and now the company has even bigger plans, and perhaps even bigger backers. Cyanogen wants to break Google's hegemony on the Android market, and Microsoft may be willing to lend a helping hand.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the information, claiming that reliable sources informed the publication that Microsoft and a group of other investors would like to funnel upwards of $70 million toward the Google competitor. Microsoft would also like to see Google taken down a peg, and is apparently willing to put its money where its mouth is. We reached out to Microsoft, and the company declined to comment.

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For those not familiar with Cyanogen, the company makes its own version of the Android mobile operating system that's arguably more streamlined and customizable than Google's. Although Google and Android are almost synonymous, Android is technically an open-source operating system, and not every build need come from Google. This is why companies like Samsung, HTC and Motorola all have their own somewhat idiosyncratic versions of Android.

The difference between Cyanogen and Samsung et al. is that all those companies still play nice with Google. While most Western smartphones and tablets still have Google set as the default search engine and the Google Play Store as the default marketplace, Cyanogen aims to give users access to different app stores, e-mail services, maps and search providers than what Google provides.

Microsoft supporting an Android system may seem like a strange idea. The company has its own mobile operating system, Windows Phone 8, into which it's already sunk a considerable amount of money. However, Windows Phones have only 3 percent market share, so perhaps associating the Microsoft brand with the well-known Android OS could attract more customers into the fold.

As for Cyanogen itself, it's not out to conquer the Android market, just wrest some of its control away from Google. While CyanogenMod is one of the most popular solutions for modders, Cyanogen barely comes standard on any phones, and it would need to make a pretty strong case for why users would want its theoretical marketplace instead of the highly regarded Google Play Store. Maybe Microsoft has some ideas.

Marshall Honorof is a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide. Contact him at mhonorof@tomsguide.com. Follow him @marshallhonorof. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.