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Japanese cell phone service rings in Linux

Japanese cell phone service provider NTT DoCoMo urges its handset suppliers to build Linux-based cell phones, a milestone for the operating system's acceptance by the wireless industry.

Japanese cell phone service provider NTT DoCoMo is urging its handset suppliers to build Linux-based cell phones, a milestone for the operating system's acceptance by the wireless industry.

DoCoMo intends Linux as a cost-saving measure for its 2004 cell phone lineup, spokeswoman Karen Lurker said on Wednesday. The Linux operating system, which is distributed freely, could help DoCoMo's handset suppliers-- NEC, Panasonic, Toshiba and Fujitsu--drive down the price of some of the phones they manufacture, she said.

She added that the company is not asking the handset makers to use only Linux, but rather to make the operating system "one choice among many" that NTT DoCoMo subscribers have next year. "Linux is open, there's no licensing charges; it's a smart choice," Lurker said.

DoCoMo and its reputation for introducing cutting-edge cell phones is the latest inroad for Linux, which is created by a large number of programmers who share the freely available source code that underlies the software. It was first popular as a replacement for the expensive software used to run higher-end networked machines called servers.


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Interest in Linux by cell phone manufacturers started in January, when handset maker Nokia responded to requests from Linux programmers to release a Linux version of software for developing Linux cell phone applications. In February, Motorola outlined ambitious plans to make most of its phones run on Linux. Motorola introduced its first Linux phone, the A760, in August.

Research firm IDC has estimated that by 2006, Linux may take as much as 4.2 percent of the market for software for high-powered smart phones. Dominating the market now is Symbian, a London-based consortium owned by British computer company Psion. DoCoMo earlier announced its intention to introduce Symbian-based phones to its customers.