Ballmer slams Android as 'cheap,' doomed, as Android lengthens its lead by two big steps

Ice Cream Sandwich is cool; NSA/Army Android mod will outsrip Blackberry security

REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Microsoft's Steve Ballmer picked the wrong day to try to build up the image of market trailer Windows Phone 7 by trash-talking Android for what he called its overly complex interface, the "cheap" phones it runs on and its inevitable domination by an upcoming wave of marginally improved hardware running Windows Phone.

At the Web. 2.0 Summit in San Francisco this morning, Ballmer said both the phones and interface customers get with Microsoft's phone OS are just better than anything Android offers. It's not his fault he did it on a day Android took another two big steps forward to lengthen its already big lead over Microsoft's offering.

"The biggest advantage we have over Android is that you don’t need to be a computer scientist to use a Windows Phone," Ballmer said. "But the cheapest phones will be Android, and we are going to have to look at bringing the cost of our handsets down."

Which, if I'm translating the FUD correctly into English, that Windows Phone hardware is too expensive and the UI is so overwritten it slows down even the more expensive phones.

It was just poor timing that the CEO of the company with the most underperforming smartphone operating system would slam the market leader on the same day Google announced yet another widely praised, anxiously anticipated update of its OS for what Ballmer called "cheap" phones.

Mostly unnoticed but still significant was the announcement today that Google, the National Security Agency (NSA) and George Mason Univ. are building a hardened kernel for Android that will make it secure enough to be used for sensitive government and military communications.

Security has never been Windows' strong suit, but Android has taken over as the target of choice for malware writers and hackers looking for easy, largely unsecured targets.

Antivirus and security apps are filtering into the market, but even the Android Market hasn't mastered the relatively minor art of not downloading malware onto its customers.

Under the Army's Connecting Soldiers to Digital Applications (CSDA) program, however, a hardened version of Android 3.0 is two stages of security certification away from being accepted as a secure cell-phone option for the military, according to Government Computer News.

The hardened version uses Secure Sockets Layer certification to help confirm the identity of the user, the phone and the network over which the message is sent.

The hardened version of Android is being tested now for certification under the Federal Information Processing Standard 140-2, which sets cryptographic standards for devices being used for communication of anything with a security rating lower than Classified.

After that it only needs SSL certificates to authenticate users and devices, and the hardened version will be off to the races – or off to the battlefield, depending on your preferences.

The push for secure Android came partly from the military, which is interested in replacing insecure, often unreliable radios with cell phones for basic communications. Extra pressure came from the White House, which the Obama Administration has been trying to convert from Blackberry to Android devices almost since Obama took office, according to GCN.

The hardened kernel will be more secure than Blackberry is now, but it won't be Ice Cream Sandwich – the purposely trivializing nickname for Android version 4.0, which Google announced this morning in Hong Kong.

The new version supports software-only GPS controls, rather than requiring capacitive buttons, a faster camera and secure Near Field Communications (NFC) for applications such as Google Wallet.

The first device it was demo'ed to run on is the Galaxy Nexus, which comes with a 1.2-Ghz dual-core processor, high-def Super AMOLED 4.65-inch display with 1280x780 resolution for full video, a 5 megapixel camera with no shutter lag and 1080p HD video recording.

It also comes with a phone-locking system based on facial recognition, offline search for Gmail and Android Beam, the NFC function it hopes will be used by more apps than just Google Wallet.

The package was enough to impress ITWorld Open Discussion blogger Brian Proffitt, if not Steve Ballmer.

The SDK and more information is available here, in case you're interested.

Ballmer said the new line of Windows Phones will be out in time for Christmas and will beat both Apple and Android on its merits. Microsoft is also beating Google in the cloud applications market, he said – a lead that will only increase after Windows 8 ships, Ballmer said.

Despite Microsoft's own solid record in attempts to warp reality, Steve Jobs was always praised as the king of reality modification and emitter of a personal reality distortion field.

Now that he's gone, it's good to see Ballmer trying to carry on the tradition, albeit in a way that's more difficult to use and less elegant than Jobs always managed.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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