Volume 3, Number 24 -- June 27, 2006

Phone Makers to Create Unified Mobile Linux Platform

Published: June 27, 2006

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

While Linux has been increasing in popularity as a platform for personal digital assistants and cell phones, it is very hard to get all of the suppliers of various devices to agree on a standard Linux implementation. Microsoft, which has been peddling cut-down versions of Windows for the same devices, has the virtue of owning and controlling the Windows standard. No so for Linux. But that might be changing.

Last week, six giants of the cell phone racket--Motorola, NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic Mobile Communications, Samsung Electronics, and Vodafone--said that they were banding together to create a global, Linux-based platform for their mobile devices, thereby making it easier for themselves, their software partners, and their customers to get a consistent set of software on their devices. Linux, which has a pretty skinny kernel compared to Windows Mobile, should have significant advantages when it comes to cell phones. But there are too many different Linux implementations. And the fact that Symbian, which has created its own OS for mobile phones, can be popular among cell phone equipment makers and network operators, just goes to show you how fragmentation is a bad thing for Linux. Symbian is formerly Psion Software, the British PDA maker from a decade ago, which partnered with Ericsson, Nokia, and Motorola to create an OS for mobile devices, and it runs on ARM RISC processors (also formerly British).

In any event, the six mobile phone makers said they plan to create a foundation that will be the vehicle to create a Linux mobile platform and a set of APIs to it as well as a reference implementation of the platform. (Perhaps "Phonix" is a good name?) They have agreed to have a fair, balanced, and transparent means of contributing code and participating in the foundation, and to have safeguards that will keep the Linux mobile platform from forking. There are a number of existing Linux mobile projects or equivalents, including the Consumer Electronics Linux Forum (created three years ago by the big Japanese electronics firms), the Mobile Linux Initiative at the Open Source Development Lab (created last fall).

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Kevin Vandever,
Shannon O'Donnell, Victor Rozek, Hesh Wiener, Alex Woodie
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