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Will Sony open up with an Android-based Walkman?

The old proprietary-everything approach has failed Sony, causing the company to reportedly look to open-source Google Android to win.

Sony, once the king of personal technology, has spent years wandering through the desert, looking for a hit. Sony Chairman and CEO Howard Stringer attributes this to the company's continued fixation with proprietary lock-in:

Sony hasn't taken open technology very seriously in the past. Its CONNECT music download service was a failure. It was based on OpenMG, a proprietary digital rights management (DRM) technology. At the time, we thought we would make more money that way than with open technology, because we could manage the customers and their downloads.

This approach, however, created a problem: customers couldn't download music from any Websites except those that contracted with Sony. If we had gone with open technology from the start, I think we probably would have beaten Apple Inc of the US.

There was a time when it made sense to divide the market with closed technology, and monopolize a divided market, but that's just not an effective strategy any more. In the Internet universe, there are millions of stars - millions of options that have been created through open technology.

Such a strategy has been highly successful for Apple, but it's a high-stakes gamble with proprietary technology: you either win big or you completely fail. An "open-source" approach arguably gives a company like Sony more wiggle room.

It's perhaps not surprising, then, that Sony is strongly rumored to be using Google's open-source Android platform across a range of mobile devices to be launched in 2010, including its once-dominant Walkman.

Sony has been using Linux for years in its mobile devices, but even its use of Linux was somewhat proprietary. The company took MontaVista and other embedded Linux distributions, deeply customized them, and shipped devices built on them.

Now, however, Sony appears to be tapping into Google's Android community, making its new Linux foray a community affair, rather than a solo Sony exercise.

This is progress. The old Sony won with proprietary technology. Can the new Sony win through open source, open standards, and open communities?

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.