Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?

LiMo Foundation quietly gaining mobile Linux converts

The foundation isn't flashy, but it seems to be making steady progress in its ambition to unify the mobile Linux experience.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
3 min read

The mobile industry has never been more active and interesting, with much of the froth centered on Apple's impressive iPhone. In the wake of the iPhone's success a range of competitors have arisen, many of them open source, including Google Android, Symbian, and...the LiMo Foundation.

That last one may not be top-of-mind for many people, but LiMo, launched in February 2007 with the goal of establishing a collaborative platform for Linux-based handsets, has quietly been making headway amongst mobile handset manufacturers, with more than 30 handsets shipping the first release of its software and a bevy to come at the end of 2009 with the second release of the software.

Most intriguing for me, LiMo's software isn't solely used in high-end smartphones, as Apple's and Google's software is, but instead covers a wide array of smartphones and feature phones.

The foundation started with just six members--NEC, NTT DOCOMO, Orange, Panasonic, Samsung and Vodafone--but has significantly expanded its membership over time, most recently adding Casio Hitachi Mobile Communications, Marvell Semiconductor, Opera Software, Telefonica, and more to the roster.

I spoke with Andrew Shikiar, director of Global Marketing for LiMo Foundation, on Tuesday to get a status report on LiMo, as well as to uncover what makes the foundation tick.

Shikiar pointed out that unlike Google Android, for example, LiMo is developed by a consortium of competitors and collaborators that have decided to commoditize the operating system and middleware layers of mobile computing with LiMo's Linux platform, thereby freeing themselves to innovate beyond the operating system.

The LiMo Platform LiMo Foundation

Shikiar speculates that "it's unclear that the open-source community is going to be enthusiastic about contributing to Android when ultimately it's Google, alone, that derives the most benefits."

He may be right.

Shikiar also noted LiMo's somewhat unique governance model:

Part of what makes LiMo unique is our contribution and development model. Any company (at any level of membership) can contribute code, but must do so under an open-source, royalty-free license.

Because of our diverse members, the process of getting consensus during development is more time-consuming but this process also seeds the market for that platform at the same time.

In other words, all of the wrangling and competitive positioning happens within the LiMo Foundation's development process, which serves as a microcosm (and refinery) of the larger mobile ecosystem. This walled-garden open-source approach--one that helps to coordinate "crowdsourcing"--to development promises to yield a platform that reflects the diverse industry that supports it.

LiMo, of course, is not alone. It faces significant competition from the concerted efforts of Apple, Google, Microsoft, and others. But as the industry has reset to a new expectation of open development, LiMo stands to benefit.

As an agglomeration of corporate interests, LiMo strikes me as more akin to Eclipse or the Linux Foundation than to Mozilla. Having grown up in the embedded Linux market with Lineo, I can appreciate its attempts to halt the fragmentation that has long plagued the mobile/embedded Linux market.

Given the swelling size of its membership and the new devices being shipped with LiMo's software, apparently I'm not alone.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.