New Linux phone standards effort in the works

PalmSource, France Telecom's Orange and others plan to standardize aspects of Linux running on cell phones.

PalmSource, France Telecom's Orange and several other companies plan on Monday to announce an effort to standardize aspects of Linux running on mobile phones.

The Linux Phone Standard (Lips) Forum wants to standardize Linux interfaces so that higher-level software won't have to be customized for each variation of the open-source operating system appearing in different cell phone models. If successful, the allies believe they'll make Linux a better competitor the fast-growing market.

"There's a need for an alternative to Microsoft and Symbian," said John Ostrem, a Lips board member, founder of China Mobilesoft and now lead scientist at PalmSource. "We're interested in reducing fragmentation and introducing a standard Linux platform that will allow people to make Linux phones faster, at lower cost, and with greater interoperability."

The groups want to define standard software profiles for basic phones initially and for higher-end models eventually. The first profile, designed for basic phones that can place calls and run simple applications, is due in the first quarter of 2006. Certified phones are due in 2007, said Michel Gien, Lips committee member and executive at embedded-software maker Jaluna.

It's not an easy market in which to carve a niche. PalmSource licensed its PalmOS operating system to handheld device maker Palm, but began a move to Linux by acquiring China MobileSoft. And a Japanese company, Access, is acquiring PalmSource. Now Palm is moving in a different direction by adding Windows-based products.

The Lips effort is the third Linux phone standardization project. The Open Source Development Lab (OSDL) has been trying to boost Linux for phones and define requirements for various models. The Consumer Electronics Linux Forum (CELF) has implemented an effort to define various phone profiles.

The groups are in slightly different domains and have tried to avoid stepping on each others' toes. OSDL is working on lower-level software, but there is some overlap with the CELF effort, Ostrem said. However, CELF is aiming chiefly for the Japanese market and Lips chiefly at Europe, he added.

Mobile phone maker Motorola is a strong advocate of Linux-based phones, and it's not alone. So a smaller company, MontaVista Software has created a version of Linux geared specifically for the market.

A MontaVista representative confirmed the company's membership in the Lips Forum. Other members include FSM Labs, an embedded operating system specialist and ARM Holdings, a cell phone chip maker.

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