Groans are issuing from the Googleplex over this year's holiday bonus. In the past, the search engine paid cash — as much as $20,000 or $30,000 per Googler, we hear. This year? A cell phone.

Oh, but not just any cell phone: A version of the G1 currently sold for $179.99 by T-Mobile, which runs Google's Android operating system. Android is the fruit of Google founders' Larry Page and Sergey Brin's strange obsession with the wireless market, launched in a fit of jealousy over the growing number of phones running Microsoft's Windows Mobile. (Imagine that: Google, jealous of Microsoft for a change.)

In an email, Google management blames the economic crisis and suggests that this is a great opportunity to "dogfood" the phones — an unappetizing tech-industry euphemism for testing products in-house. This is what has become of the company that was once deemed the best place in the world to work: Cancelled bonuses and unpaid labor. Here's the memo:


The holiday bonus is a Google tradition - it's a great way to thank everyone for their hard work. In the past, we've done this in cash. This year, we've decided to give Googlers a different kind of present - a Dream phone (this is the same device T-Mobile markets as the G1). We're really excited about getting the phone to more Googlers in more countries, and also seeing all the cool new things you do with it.

Shipping these special edition phones in such a short time frame (they were designed especially for Googlers with a 'droid' on the back) and making sure they would work anywhere in the world was no small feat. So a big thank you to the Android and Legal teams for making this happen. While these phones do not have SIM cards, they are unlocked so they can be used with the network provider of your choice. Plus - thanks to more fancy footwork from the Android team - they'll work immediately as WiFi devices!

Sadly, despite all our best efforts, there are some countries - India, China, Brazil, Korea, Israel, Russia, Argentina, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Mexico, Turkey, Kenya, United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Egypt, Chile, and the Ukraine - where even our legal team could not work their magic. Googlers in these countries will receive the cash equivalent of the phone in their December paychecks, which is about $400 USD. Overall though almost 85% of Googlers globally will be able to receive the phone - including the United States, Western and Central Europe, Canada, Australia, Singapore, and Japan.

The holiday gift team in your office will be sending out an email with logistical information on distribution shortly. We know that some of you are already on your holidays - don't worry - your phones will be waiting for you when you come back! For more information, check out the FAQ here.

Some of you will of course be wondering why we decided to change from a cash bonus to the Dream phone. Here are the reasons. First, we've never developed anything like the Android software before and this represented a unique opportunity to celebrate that achievement. Googlers globally have been asking for the Dream phone and we're looking forward to seeing all the different things that you do with them. This is a chance for us to once again dogfood a product and make it even better! Second, as we discussed in our email this week, the current economic crisis requires us to be more conservative about how we spend our money. We felt that giving the Dream phone would be a great holiday present - something we could all celebrate.

Thank you for all that you do to make Google the company that it is. We hope that you will enjoy using your Dream phone in 2009 and have a very happy holiday!

One tipster notes:

The boxes appear to have magnets to keep them closed, instead of tape — open box discount for Google?

Since the phones are customized for Googlers, the suggestion that these are leftover G1s which went unsold at retail is unlikely. Can you get your hands on one? It will take some bravery to put them up for sale on eBay, magnets or not. But hey, times are tough all over. Even at the Googleplex.