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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 Follow him @marshallhonorof. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

  • Vlad Rose
    If Cyanogen ends up having Microsoft backing them, consider it nearly sunk in the mobile market. Most users use Android or iOS because it isn't Microsoft. Just ask those who bought iPods instead of Zunes.
  • alextheblue
    If Cyanogen ends up having Microsoft backing them, consider it nearly sunk in the mobile market. Most users use Android or iOS because it isn't Microsoft. Just ask those who bought iPods instead of Zunes.
    Ridiculous revisionist history. Most who bought iPods thought they were "the best", or wanted what all their friends had, or were locked into the ecosystem. In general most users today (iOS or Android) just don't know any better. We're well past the early adopter phases for these OS so the majority of the users are average Joes and Janes. So now Android is the mainstream... not the alternative. CyanogenMod is one of the few viable alternatives, unless you're an Applefan. However if Cyanogen wants to challenge Google they need to partner with other companies, and Apple and Google are out of the question for them.
  • sykozis
    It would be stupid to avoid Cyanogen just because MS decides to fund them. Cyanogen needs money. MS has plenty.
  • rluker5
    MS wants the android userbase to be more fragmented like Linux. Since the a lot of the android userbase values freedom of choice more than os loyalty, it seems like an easy call to give those people what they want in the short term even if it may reduce the diversity of android apps in the long term.
    But I had a zune, and I loved it. I also have a windows 8.1 phone and its soon to get even better with free windows 10. If MS really wanted to enter the phone market, they would put baytrails with micro hdmi outs in them running full desktop windows. you could remote desktop or stream steam to your tv.
    But this is better than nothing.
  • damianrobertjones
    @Vlad. "Most users use Android or iOS because it isn't Microsoft." - Utter Bull. People, standard consumers, use whatever they're told to use. Do you really think that most Samsung owners care t hat they're using Android? No, they don't, they have their shiny Samsung. iPhone... We know the story there.
  • ohim
    @rluker5 i would be very pleased if they would make a Win 10 phone that you can connect to your TV/Monitor via HDMI and use it. I have a Samsung Galaxy S3 and all i can say is that it has great hardware and crap software.

    I also hate the dispute between MS and Google, because of this i can`t sync my Windows 8.1 calendar with my Galaxy S Planner even though they both use Google Calendar at core. Because the two giants can`t make peace on what protocol to use with syncing. But i`ve found a work around this, mobile office (free), i can store my pans in my Excel sheet and have them accessed both on PC (free online Office) and on my Phone.
  • rundmcarlson
    I agree that many people simply avoid ms. Everything that they have bought ive had to stop using because they let greed ruin the service. Just wait until cm loses the forums and has inaccessible paid customer service or charges monthly to keep running the software. Not saying it will happen, but ms has done this type of stuff in the past which is why i dont give them business anymore.
  • therealduckofdeath
    If they fork Cyanogenmod, instead of keeping it a mod, it will be a waste of money. A forked Android is useful for one, maybe two generations, after that you'll start running into compatibility issues.

    I guess their plan is just to get their hands on a potentially widespread Android version where they can preload Microsoft apps and services. Microsoft has been building their apps portfolio up pretty strongly during 2014.
  • Kikenovic
    if cm corrupts, good news is there are options and plenty of enthusiasts making custom roms. Let's see how it plays out.
  • face-plants
    I too have been a long-term skeptic of Microsoft's intentions when entering new markets or developing new/alternative platforms to existing/successful ones. However, this could very well be another bit of evidence that MS is getting wise to the powers of embracing the more open-source, DIY, modder culture out there. I'm also anxiously waiting to see how they handle their acquisition of minecraft and the enormous 3rd party mod scene that exists out there for it. It could be that someone making decisions in Redmond has realized that controlling every single aspect of the user experience isn't in their best interest.

    One more example of them parting ways with tradition is their announcement of the free update to Windows 10 for a huge user base (win 7/8 users). Putting market share of the new OS over profits couldn't have been an easy decision for them to make.