Linux could be a smart choice for smartphones

In five years, one third of all smart phone users will have Linux on their device, according to a study recently released by the New York City-based ABI Research.

This idea makes sense in light of prodigal son Palm’s maneuvering itself back into the enterprise’s good graces by savvily adopting the Linux kernel for the OS on some Treos, set for release this year.

Palm’s strategy is a smart one, according to Evan Leibovitch, executive director of the Canadian Association for Open Source, who said that the increasing need for different vendors’ products to talk to one another is resulting in users warming up to Linux. European smartphones of the Nokia and Motorola variety have been rolling on Linux for a good while now, because they got wise long ago to user desire for smooth integration with other applications.

It’s only a matter of time before North Americans are doing so much on their phones that the same needs will trump brand recognition, and even their fear of Linux.

The common enterprise worker, for example, might not even know what Linux is. While some view open source as an egalitarian, cost-saving boon, others are extremely leery of something that doesn’t have a vendor behind it.

How can you trust an OS without a strong sense of support? And why is it free, anyway? Does that mean it’s of poor quality? Just who is this Linux company, anyway?

Prepare your answers

IT professionals should be right there to answer these questions. This involves boning up on open source alternatives before employees clamour for that new Linux-kernel Palm Treo, or flood IT department inboxes with complaints about how their Windows Mobile devices don’t work with any of their on-the-go apps. Stay plugged in to the developer community so that you can bring helpful applications to your enterprise’s smartphones, instead of being blindsided by them when you find them already installed haphazardly on some of your company’s devices.

Some IT departments have been slow to plot their mobile computing strategy, are now paying for their lack of proactivity by spending precious time struggling to synch proprietary handheld and smartphone operating systems with calendars, e-mails, and spreadsheets, to say nothing of the types of handheld data on the horizon, from video to spreadsheets to business intelligence reports to heavy-duty CRM and ERP data loads.

Open source could provide a way to deal with those issues. Linux could also add diversity to the mobile sphere, something which is tough to get momentum around in most other spaces, due to the ubiquity of Microsoft implementations.

And, scary or not, Linux is a step into the future, as it taps right into today’s culture. Web 2.0 and the ubiquity of consumer technology has opened workers’ eyes to being more vocal about what they want out of an IT experience. The public’s increasing wariness of mindless acquiescence to proprietary programs has created a society that is, ultimately, ready for a Linux-based smartphone.

Many employees don’t know how to properly manage their smartphones for business purposes. IT professionals should step up and take the Linux smartphone revolution in hand, and assume control.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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