Operators, Vendors Line Up Behind Mobile Linux

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Motorola, NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic, Samsung, and Vodafone have announced they’ll work together to develop a Linux platform for mobile phones, culminating in the formation of an independent foundation to push the initiative forward. The foundation will work on:

  • Implementation of a fair, balanced, transparent contribution and participation process across the current and future membership.
  • Establishment of safeguards to minimize fragmentation.
  • Collaboration on a mobile Linux developer ecosystem.
  • Coordination with existing industry organizations.
  • Seeking participation from all interested companies across the value chain, including device manufacturers, operators, chipset manufacturers, independent software vendors, integrators and third-party developers.

This sounds a bit like a Symbian for Linux, then, which is what the platform needs if it’s ever going to really thrive, instead of fragmented approaches that take away many of Linux’ supposed advantages. Of course, we’ve seen similar announcements like this before, including the LiPS Forum and the OSDL’s Mobile Linux Initiative. So is this new group anything to get excited about?

The only thing here that could make this something of a tipping point for Linux is the participation of DoCoMo and Vodafone. DoCoMo, some time ago, specified Linux as one of its two preferred platforms (along with Symbian) for 3G devices, and its top-down approach means it will do a lot of work to dictate exactly what the platform will do to device vendors. Vodafone’s participation, by sheer virtue of its scope, will turn some heads. Remember back at 3GSM when Vodafone said it wanted to settle on two or three smartphone platforms (S60 being one of them) — looks like Linux is the second.

The operators’ interest here is simple — they want to drive the cost of using Linux down as low as possible. Many people have the misconception that using Linux is “free” when compared to the $5 or $7 per device Symbian royalties cost, but cost savings can quickly be chewed up by extra development work that’s needed to craft the OS into a viable smartphone platform with a solid UI. That’s what this effort, like the ones before it, hopes to achieve. The sign of interest from two major operators may be enough to make this initiative something of a tipping point for mobile Linux.

The real question, though, is will this bunch actually do anything? The other mobile Linux initiatives were met with a decent amount of hype when they were announced, but they’ve been pretty quiet since. While Linux has had some success in the mobile sphere, it’s really yet to emerge as a real challenger in the smartphone space, and these various initiatives don’t appear to have much to show for their work. Operator participation — a de facto assurance of a market for mobile Linux — should help, but it’s hard not to remain skeptical.

[tags]mobile, linux, mobile linux, docomo, vodafone, motorola, samsung, panasonic, nec, mobile software, mobile OS[/tags]

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