Google's mess.

How do you solve a problem like Motorola?

Google paid a pretty penny to secure Moto’s vast patent portfolio to protect its Android operating system from other OS companies that use their own extensive patent portfolios as sticks to impede competition.

Brian SantoBut in the process, Google picked up a handset manufacturer and a maker of cable network equipment and service provider CPE.

At least one competitor (Entone) is publicly appealing to Motorola’s network gear customers who may be worried about Google’s commitment to businesses it has never been in. Others are certainly doing so in private.

Motorola’s manufacturing operations are awful fits for Google. Some dreamers expect that Google might use Motorola as a means to migrate service providers to Google TV or some similar open platform.

Fat chance.

And that’s too bad, really. The MVPD industry needs to migrate to an open platform. Cable is contorting itself into knots trying to look like an open system without actually being one. Can Canoe Ventures be made to work? Progress has been made, but it’s been fitful, and for a reason. Can cable work the App Store model? Not as an industry. And the companies that are moving that way on their own aren’t moving very fast, when the whole point of the apps model is speed combined with huge markets.

There may be disadvantages to an open platform, but there are some advantages, too. This opportunity is likely to go by because change is hard, and this change isn’t critically necessary yet. But eventually, service providers are going to accept the ugly lesson learned by IBM 10 years ago and by HP in the last year: Hardware is the past, and software (and services) are the future.

BTW, some of you gray heads recall that the operation we’re talking about was originally Jerrold, and then General Instrument, before being acquired by Motorola. For who knows what reason, even though the GI name has long been retired, has been consistently renewed. Only now it takes you to Nokia Siemens, which picked up the URL with its acquisition of Motorola’s mobile equipment business earlier this year.

And since the subject came up, doesn’t Agilent deserve to get the name Hewlett-Packard back?