New mobile Linux group emerges

New mobile Linux group emerges


On Monday, a group of companies led by PalmSource Inc., France Telecom SA, Orange SA, TIM Italia SpA, ARM Holdings PLC, Jaluna SA, Open-Plug and Montavista Software Inc., announced the launch of Linux Phone Standards (LiPS) Forum.

The aim of the newly created LiPS Forum is to create application programming interfaces (API) allowing developers to build applications that will work across Linux handsets made by various manufacturers. Apart from this, the forum will also work with the Open Mobile Terminal Platform group, an association of operators that sets baseline mobile phone standards, so that applications written for Linux handsets can work with applications used on phones powered by other operating systems.

The Forum is expected to come up with the APIs for devices ranging from basic consumer handsets to high-functionality smart phones and a testing process to certify devices as LiPS-compliant. The first device profile for the low-cost market is expected to be available by mid 2006 and the first device is expected to hit the streets by 2007.

For practical reasons LiPS Forum is not joining any international standardization groups. “It takes so long with those international standards bodies,” said Michael Gien, vice president on the LiPS executive committee and the cofounder and executive vice president of corporate development for Jaluna, a company that develops virtualization software for mobile phones. “Our schedule is very aggressive.”

Although major handset vendors are notably absent from the initial line-up of LiPS members, Motorola which is already selling millions of Linux handsets in China has expressed serious commitment to using Linux.

The launch of the LiPS Forum follows the recent creation of another organization Mobile Linux Initiative (MLI), a working group created to optimize the Linux operating system for handheld devices. Leaders of both groups say their work will complement each other and help achieve the goal of encouraging more use of Linux on mobile devices.

The idea of using Linux on mobiles has recently gained momentum in Europe, with operators showing interest as it will provide them a platform to sell phones with their brands apart from major manufacturers and different OS system. Linux will provide them an opportunity to lower the cost of producing such phones and targeting the lower end market.

According to John Ostrem, a LiPS board member and a lead scientist at PalmSource, interest in Linux handsets is strongest in China, mainly due to their low cost but also because the Chinese government encourages the use of software that doesn’t make companies dependent on Microsoft or other developers, “All the major handset makers and OEMs are looking at Linux-based phones in China,” he said.

According to him U.S. operators are behind their European counterparts as they now only have begun to consider using Linux on mobile phones. “I think a lot of them are still trying to figure out a strategy in terms of Linux,” Ostrem said.