Mobile players hop on LiMo

The market can expect to see by 2008 the fruits of a recently-formed initiative to develop the first globally available Linux-based mobile device platform based on industry-developed standards.

The LiMo Foundation, established in January of this year, aims to provide a common platform for mobile handsets and “enable a much broader and richer measure of innovation” in the mobile device market, said Morgan Gillis, executive director at the LiMo Foundation.

“It’s much more sensible for industry players from all parts of the value chain to collaborate together on a common platform which uses published common APIs (application programming interfaces),” said Gillis.

The LiMo Foundation executive said while Linux-based mobile devices have been in existence in some markets like China and Japan, these are solely proprietary technologies and not based on “open industry standard platform.”

From six founding members, which include Motorola, NEC, NTT Docomo, Panasonic Mobile Communications, Samsung Electronics and Vodafone, the LiMo Foundation has since recruited other players in the mobile industry space. Recently, the foundation announced that Java-based developer Aplix, Celunite, LG Electronics, device software optimization firm Wind River and McAfee have joined as core members of the foundation.

Others, which have recently joined as associate members, include microprocessor maker ARM, Broadcom, Ericsson, Innopath, South Korean telecom firm KTF, MontaVista Software and chip maker NXP B.V.

As the first security software vendor to join the initiative, McAfee is expected to provide expertise in designing the standards for embedding mobile security on the LiMo platform, said David Marcus, security research and communications manager at McAfee Avert Labs in Santa Clara, Calif.

“It’s important to be part of the initiative in the beginning because you can then help develop standards (on security), and to help (application developers) think about security in the beginning rather than towards the end,” explained Marcus.

The McAfee executive added the security standards that will be developed for the LiMo platform will likely involve similar security safeguards commonly found on laptop and desktop computers.

NEC, Panasonic, Motorola and Samsung are currently spearheading the development of the first version of the LiMo mobile platform, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year, Gillis said.

According to the foundation’s Web site, contributors can choose any of four available licences: open source (such as GPL, LGPL, Apache, etc.), common capable foundation public licence (FPL), non-common capable FPL, and proprietary.

One Canadian Linux expert, however, said the LiMo Foundation is not really an open source initiative, but merely provides cross licensing among members.

“In a lot of ways it’s like a patent pool, only it’s not really just about patents, it’s also copyrighted code and only members of the foundation will have access to this, not the public,” noted Russell McOrmond, policy coordinator at Canadian open source advocacy group CLUE.

McOrmond expects the LiMo initiative will gain traction among mobile industry players, saying this will provide application developers a common framework for writing software for mobile devices.

He stressed, however, that while it’s a multi-vendor initiative the LiMo foundation is not an open source undertaking.

“The use of the word Linux confuses the issue because (LiMo is) still a proprietary platform. It’s just a proprietary platform that is managed by a foundation rather than a single private sector corporation,” McOrmond said.

Still, he added, the LiMo initiative is an improvement to the current status quo in which third-party application developers are forced to write different code for every mobile device with its own operating platform.

The LiMo concept would be highly popular among hardware vendors, in particular, he said, which are “dealing with the problem of completely incompatible operating systems and not wanting to put their businesses essentially under the control of someone else,” McOrmond said.

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