Monday, June 19, 2006

Mobile industry pursues Linux platform

PC Pro reports that Motorola (MOT), NEC, Panasonic, Samsung and operators Vodafone and NTT DoCoMo announced "they will build the world's first 'global, open Linux-based software platform for mobile devices'. It aims to develop an API specification, reference architectures and implementations, "and a set of developer tools. It will seek participation from 'all interested companies' and coordinate its efforts with existing industry bodies."

The article discusses some of the other mobile linux initiatives taking place. Rachel Lashford at Canalys said, "It's difficult to see how this will be a really different initiative."

While Linuz handsets have been in the market for a while, Lashford noted that "the NEC and Panasonic phones, built for NTT DoCoMo's 3G FOMA service have little in the way of developer communities backing them." She suggested that "Motorola is perhaps the lone handset manufacturer that stands to make a success of a Linux phone, as it has successfully built such a community behind its version of the platform."

Lashford said, "There is a need to try and prevent Linux fragmentation [in the mobile arena]. It's a hindrance to the developer community. But [the foundation] will have to build support tools for a community. And to compete with Microsoft (MSFT) and Symbian takes resources.

But the real battle in the mobile industry is not among rival platforms. The great power struggle remains between the handset manufacturers and the network operators, and there's one industry body the latter are signed up to. The Open Mobile Mobile Terminal organisation doesn't just boast Vodafone, but also Orange, T-Mobile, Telefonica Moviles, O2, 3 and Cingular among its members. Its goal is 'gathering and driving mobile terminal requirements. It is technology neutral, with its recommendations intended for deployment across the range of technology platforms, operating systems (OS) and middleware layers.'

Regarding whether the "Linux initiative should be seen as an attempt to substitute Symbian or Microsoft's Windows Mobile, Lashford pointed out "Vodafone announced a commitment to Symbian earlier this year at the 3GSM conference." She also warned "against interpreting these Linux initiatives as a move to make Linux a dominant force in the mobile space."

Lashford said, "Operators may start to consolidate the number of operating systems they use. In our personal view, Linux for mobiles is restricted to featurephones rather than smartphones. We see Linux replacing the proprietary operating systems of handset manufacturers, but it will be tough to compete with smartphones."