Open Source Development Labs, which employs Linux creator Linus Torvalds, said Monday it has brought together Motorola Inc. and several other high-tech vendors in an effort to develop a Linux platform for advanced cellular phones and other mobile devices.
Members of the OSDL working group, called the Mobile Linux Initiative, also include MontaVista Software, PalmSource, Trolltech and Wind River. The participants plan to develop a base-level platform that handset manufacturers can build on top of, Dave Rosenberg, analyst for Beaverton, Ore.-based, OSDL, said. Requirements for the OS would include power management to increase battery life, a standard interface for connecting to the various carrier networks and other basic functions that would have to be crammed into an OS that runs in devices with limited memory.
Participants have built their own Linux-based OSes, but the idea is to collaborate on a single platform in order to make it a stronger competitor. Much like the Linux computer world, software vendors would make money on applications built on top of the OS.
"A lot of this is sort of a unification of all these (separate) efforts into a base platform that meets the needs of more than one vendor," Rosenberg said. "There really is no vendor neutral development on (mobile) Linux. There all different."
Avi Greengart, analyst for market researcher Current Analysis, said broader use of Linux has been hampered by not having a single platform. Most handset manufacturers today, have to build their own Linux-based OS in order to use the technology. Such an effort often supersedes advantages of the OS, which provides standards-based, open-source technology at no charge.
"The problem has always been there's more promise than delivery with Linux (on mobile devices)," Greengart said. "You end up doing a lot of low-level programming yourself."
Reducing development time is a key selling point for Microsoft, which is marketing Windows Mobile "very, very aggressively" in Europe and particularly in the United States, Greengart said. The advantage of Microsoft are its development tools, which help bring applications to market sooner.
Symbian is also proprietary, but it too delivers much of what's needed by a handset maker.
With the exception of Motorola, there are no major manufacturers in the OSDL group. In order for the effort to succeed, it will need to sign up companies like LG Electronics, Sony Ericsson and Samsung, Greengart said.
PalmSource, however, could give the OSDL a boost In China, a strong and growing cellular phone market. The company, which makes the Palm OS, last year bought China Mobile Ltd., which is developing a Chinese version of Linux.
Even though it uses Symbian in advanced cellular phones, also called smartphones, Nokia in May released a mobile device called the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet on Linux. The Finnish company plans to release a software update in the first half of next year that will support Internet telephony and instant messaging. Analysts have said that the tablet is an indication that Nokia could be planning a Linux-based mobile phone.
Symbian, however is expected to continue dominating the global market for smartphones, reaching 60 percent by 2009 from 55.9 percent last year, according to International Data Corp. Windows Mobile, on the other hand is expected to increase its share to 17.3 percent from 12.7 percent, and Linux is projected to grow to nearly 17 percent from 11.3 percent.