Motorola and others to launch mobile Linux group

A group of top mobile phone makers and operators are launching a foundation to create an open Linux-based software platform for mobile devices, they said on Thursday.

The companies, including Motorola Inc., Vodafone Group PLC, NTT DoCoMo Inc., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., NEC Corp. and Panasonic Mobile Communications, plan to focus on the development and marketing of an API (application programming interface) specification, architecture and source reference.

The creation of a common platform might help spur growth of Linux phones, a segment that has been hampered by fragmentation, said Tony Cripps, an analyst at Ovum. The Linux handsets on the market now use unique specifications, making it difficult for developers to create applications that can work across different devices, he said.

The lack of an open, common approach has also meant that Linux handsets haven’t been able to compete directly with leading mobile operating systems from Symbian Ltd. or Microsoft Corp., each of which nurtures an open application development ecosystem, he said.

The group hopes to create a collaborative environment to build a mobile Linux development ecosystem and work to minimize fragmentation in the market. Initially, the founders plan to be responsible for the reference implementation of the mobile operating platform but will later invite other companies including phone makers, operators, chip manufacturers and software vendors to join.

The foundation also hopes to offer a test suite so that developers can demonstrate that their products conform to the specification.

Motorola and Vodafone told Cripps that they hope to have the first handsets available in the second half of next year. Because typically new handsets take at least 18 months to develop, Cripps suggests that the involved companies may have already chosen an application layer and kernel on which to build their platform.

The presence of operators like Vodafone and NTT DoCoMo that order large volumes of handsets is significant. If such a large and influential operator as Vodafone adopts a Linux handsets based on this platform, then other operators are likely to adopt the same or similar phones, Cripps said.

Linux is already a popular operating system for phones in China and is just gaining momentum in Europe. Operators and phone makers say that using Linux can help them reduce the cost of handsets.

This will be the third mobile Linux group to launch within a year, joining the Linux Phone Standards (LiPS) Forum and the Mobile Linux Initiative (MLI). Like the new foundation launched on Friday, the LiPS Forum aims to focus on the creation of APIs to enable interoperability of applications across Linux handsets.

PalmSource Inc., France Telecom SA and Orange SA are among the leaders of LiPS. The MLI, with members that include Motorola and PalmSource, is working on unifying developments around the mobile Linux kernel.

While MLI isn’t involved in the new foundation, it is likely to work with the new organization in the future. “If they’re defining APIs which need some kernel work then we would certainly be working with them and we’ll listen to them and their input,” said Claude Beullens, director of Europe, Middle East and Africa for the Open Source Development Labs Inc., the group that spearheaded MLI.

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