Friday, 16 June 2006 04:22

Linux for mobiles goes mainstream with vendor support

A group of big name mobile phone manufacturers have thrown their weight behind Linux as a common platform for developing mobile applications. However, one big name is missing from the list.

According to a report from telecoms analyst firm Ovum, handset manufacturers Motorola, Samsung, NEC and Panasonic have joined forces with mobile operators Vodafone and NTT DoCoMo to create a consistent Linux-based platform for mobile handsets. The notable exception is Nokia. The initiative, which will be governed through an independent, not-for-profit foundation, seeks to develop and market a consistent set of mobile Linux application programming interfaces. The aim is to attract developers, ISVs and chipset manufacturers, as well as other OEMs and operators. The first handsets based on the new specification are targeted for introduction in H2 2007.

Register In a research note, Ovum analyst Tony Cripps says that the presence of heavy hitters such as Vodafone, Motorola, Samsung and DoCoMo backing this initiative, means it has to be taken seriously. However, there is still a lot of work to be done in the areas of the legal aspects surrounding technology licensing and certification and application testing procedures.

"Linux's prospects of making a real impression on the mobile telecoms industry have previously been hindered by the inability of its supporters to offer a consistent, natively-programmable platform for developers and service providers to target," says Cripps.  "Some efforts at achieving consistency in Linux handsets have been apparent, notably the efforts by NTT DoCoMo and handset partners Panasonic and NEC in Japan, and Motorola in the rest of the world. But these have concentrated more on improving Linux's scalability across a range of handsets than on making it an attractive application platform for developers.

"Fragmentation at the application layer has been the rule, and the incentive to build a coherent developer ecosystem has been missing. As such, Linux handsets have remained effectively 'closed' to third-party developers - except where courted directly by manufacturers or their operator customers. It has not been possible to compare them directly with genuinely "open" mobile platforms such as Microsoft's Windows Mobile and Nokia's Symbian-based S60. If the new group gets its sums right, that should now start to change."

Cripps believes that the new Linux initiative may begin to test manufacturer loyalty to commercial handset software platform players such as Microsoft and Symbian once the first devices come on stream.

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Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 35 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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