Microsoft's OK with Nokia using Android. Kind of

Microsoft expressed its support for Nokia's efforts, although noting it was "less excited" about some projects than others.

Microsoft's Joe Belfiore kicks off the company's event at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Shara Tibken/CNET

BARCELONA, Spain--Things got awkward for short moment on stage when Microsoft executives were asked about the possibility of Nokia using Android.

Joe Belfiore, vice president of operating systems for Windows, looked to Nick Parker, who runs the world original equipment manufacturer group. Parker looked back, with both wanting to defer to the other.

Finally, Belfiore spoke up, reiterating Microsoft's strong relationship with Nokia. As Microsoft hasn't yet finalized its deal to buy Nokia's device business, he couldn't add too much, but he did offer up this amusing nugget:

"Some things we're excited about, some things we're less excited about," Belfiore said during Microsoft's Mobile World Congress press conference on Sunday, eliciting more than a few chuckles. "Whatever they do, we're very supportive of them."

Parker chimed in, noting that he appreciates the competition.

"It's great to sit there and compete," he said.

CNET's full coverage of Mobile World Congress

Such is the unique relationship that is shaping up between Microsoft and Nokia. Nokia is widely expected to launch a smartphone running Android, a break from its prior commitment to Microsoft and Windows Phone. It's an odd move considering the company's device unit is weeks away from being folded into the company.

Nokia and Microsoft have long had a cozy partnership, particularly with devices head Stephen Elop, a Microsoft veteran poised to return to the mothership. Nokia, in turn, is responsible for a vast majority of sales of Windows Phone devices. Any growth in sales for Windows Phone is due to Nokia. It's the only company to consistently show excitement about the operating system.

But the Android move suggests that Microsoft may keep Nokia at arm's length, even after the acquisition, which is a good thing. Microsoft has to show that it is neutral when dealing with Nokia in order to balance its relationship with its other partners. On Sunday, Microsoft announced a number of new companies supporting Windows Phone, including LG, ZTE, and Lenovo, as well as iPhone-manufacturer Foxconn.

At least for now, Belfiore and Parker seem content to let Nokia work independently, although things may changes down the line once the deal closes.

"What they do is what they do," Belfiore said.

 

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