It's no surprise to see Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) executives dismissing the way Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is entering the smartphone market with a handset brand all its own. The argument even makes sense: How does Google expect to keep Android partners by its side when the company competes head-to-head with them?

You may have seen me make the same case against Cisco Systems' (NASDAQ:CSCO) throwing down the gauntlet to some of its old friends by selling Cisco-branded server systems. I totally get where Microsoft division president Robbie Bach is coming from when he says that the road Google is trying to walk is a difficult one. "Over time you have to decide whether your approach is with the partners or more like an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) approach," he told BusinessWeek.

But I also think Bach is wrong to apply this line of thinking to Google's phone plans. Google's situation is very different from Cisco's and Apple's in a number of important ways:

  • Where Cisco is pushing new technologies into its own systems instead of making the same ideas available to partner-competitors like Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), Google's Nexus One was built by a partner (Taiwanese gadget guru HTC) and there is not one bit of proprietary technology in it. The software is not only free to license, but also open-source and thus open to further development by anyone else.

  • The Nexus One is not the Google phone, the way the iPhone is the Apple phone. It is merely the first of a possible line of many. HTC made this one, but Android co-developers like Motorola (NYSE:MOT) could very well produce the next model. Think of it as the phone market's equivalent of Ford slapping a Lincoln badge and some nice upholstering on the Ford Expedition and calling it a high-margin Navigator. Microsoft won the browser wars in the 1990s with a rebadged version of Spyglass Mosaic. Google picked some fine role models, I'd say.

You might wonder, what if Motorola or Samsung or any of the other 15 handset makers in Android's Open Handset Alliance makes a better version of the Google Phone and then turns the official model into mincemeat on the open market? What good are the Nexus One and its unannounced siblings then?

Well, that would be just dandy with Google. Big G doesn't necessarily want to win the phone wars on its own. If these phones stoke the fires under its partners and flat-out competitors (non-Android), that's plenty good enough. Better products mean more customers, which begets more browsing and more clicks on Google ads.

You see where I'm going with this. In short, Google isn't doing the same thing as Cisco at all, and has no desire whatsoever to emulate Apple. Google wins if anybody wins -- particularly the consumer.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Apple and Ford Motor are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Motley Fool Options has recommended diagonal calls on Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.