TELECOMS & MOBILE
Mobile players form Linux alliance
by Maxim Kelly
A consortium of top mobile phone manufacturers and operators has decided to form a foundation to standardise smartphone operating systems.
Six giants of the mobile phone world: Motorola, NEC, Panasonic, Samsung, DoCoMo and Vodafone are intent on establishing an open-source Linux-based software platform for mobile devices. They will use this platform to develop new products, applications and features, according to a statement released by Motorola.
Linux is already available on some mobile handsets. Motorola says it has shipped more than five million Linux-based handsets, mostly on smartphones, such as the Ming model shipped in China. The new Rokr E2 music phone -- not strictly available in Europe yet -- also uses Linux.
Panasonic claims to have shipped eight million phones with a Linux set-up and said the operating system was vital for its future strategy.
The manufacturing companies forming the foundation believe that by working together, they can build a common platform that will allow them to develop new products much faster and cheaper than they've done in the past. Mobile operators will benefit from a common Linux platform, too, because it means they can test and certify one operating system instead of several.
For example Vodafone said it expects the group initiative will speed up the time to market for new products and help the mobile operator create more personalised content for consumers.
"Vodafone is excited to be a founder member of this major industry initiative which aims to reduce fragmentation of Linux-based mobile phone software platforms, and in turn enable us to offer our customers more innovative new services," said Vodafone global director of terminals Jens Schulte-Bockum, in a press statement.
Motorola said the new foundation would seek participation from all interested parties including device manufacturers, mobile operators, chipset manufacturers, independent software vendors, and third-party developers.
As with any partnership plans of late, analysts are already suggesting that the move by the mobile firms is to counter a perceived return of momentum by Microsoft in the handset operating system market. At the moment it is believed that the Linux system is only used, in global terms, in a handful of handsets. Symbian and Microsoft dominate the scene.
An analyst at iSuppli reportedly estimated that the open source Linux OS would have a major impact on the mobile market. Mark Kirstein estimated that 35.2 million mobile devices running Linux software could end up in subscribers' hands by the end of 2007, up from 12.6 million this year.
This isn't the first effort to come up with a common Linux operating system for mobile phones. The Linux Phone Standard Forum (composed of several companies, including PalmSource and Orange), the Open Source Development Lab and the Consumer Electronics Linux Forum all have been working on efforts to define requirements or establish specifications for new standards.