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More heavyweights join mobile-Linux group

Orange, Access join the LiMo Foundation to collaborate on its upcoming mobile-Linux platform, which promises more applications for users.

3 min read
BARCELONA, Spain--Orange and Access have become the latest companies to join the LiMo Foundation, a consortium aimed at promoting mobile Linux.

The companies announced their LiMo memberships here on Monday at the Mobile World Congress. Both companies come bearing gifts. The European operator Orange plans to launch a "fully open, Linux-powered handset" in partnership with Access and fellow LiMo member Samsung Electronics. Access is offering developers a software development kit and developer portal to help port thousands of applications from its Garnet operating system to the new LiMo platform.

Japanese Linux company Access brings with it an established developer network that was acquired when it bought PalmSource and its Palm OS (which became Garnet) in 2005.

Samsung and LG Electronics on Monday showed off new phones using free Linux software from the Mobile Linux foundation, which said that in total 18 phones from seven vendors would use its software.

The world's second-largest cell phone maker, Samsung, which has used Linux in its phones in 2006, launched a new SGH-i800 phone model running on LiMo software at the trade show, while LG Electronics showed off a prototype phone, LG LiMo.

Access and France Telecom (Orange's owner) are both members of the Lips Forum, which is in some ways a rival to the LiMo Foundation. Lips is trying to come up with a set of shared open specifications for mobile Linux, while LiMo is putting together a shared platform upon which its members can run proprietary applications. Lips released its first specifications in December 2007, and LiMo's platform will get its first release in March.

Access Europe's director of strategic planning, Michel Piquemal, said LiMo was "reusing" the specifications provided by Lips. The Lips Forum was "a key model in creating this momentum in the mobile Linux (industry) two, three years ago," he told ZDNet.co.uk ahead of Monday's announcements. "They were a central piece that produced some key results on the technical specification side."

"Lips is a place for standards, whereas LiMo is more a marketplace where companies are bringing out real terminals--we need both," Piquemal said.

The handset announced by Orange on Monday is the Samsung i800, scheduled for release later this year. Claiming Orange had been one of the first mobile operators to make significant strides in open source, Orange's director of device development and projects, Yves Maitre, said the i800 launch "shows that we are truly delivering on our commitment to mobilizing Linux technology."

"The key benefit of Linux technology is openness--the openness for partners and developers to launch more exciting products and applications than ever before," Maitre said. "To deliver the kind of services our customers want, both now and in the future, we believe it is essential that operators, vendors, and developers work together closely to establish a consistent, fully open Linux environment that positively encourages new ideas and reduces fragmentation."

Mobile Linux appeals to many companies in the handset industry, because a consistent platform on multiple manufacturers' devices promises increased developer interest. From an operator's perspective, this means a more expansive inventory of applications to offer its customers, as well as cheaper handsets.

The market for software platforms on cell phones is led by Nokia's S60, built on the Symbian operating system. However, many mobile-industry heavyweights--including Vodafone Group, NTT DoCoMo, and Huawei--are members of the Mobile Linux foundation. Motorola plans to use the LiMo platform in six phones, while NEC and Matsushita Electric's Panasonic unit both will use it in four models tailor-made for NTT DoCoMo.

Operators also hope that the common platform will significantly speed up the time it takes to get new applications to market. Maitre told ZDNet.co.uk that a new application would take a year or more to find its way into the hands of the user, but Orange hoped mobile Linux would reduce this to a "matter of months."

Also on Monday, Orange announced that its own application platform would be made available to manufacturers. The "Signature Accelerated Program" is an extension of Orange's strategy around its Signature devices. That strategy dates back six years to the release of its first Windows Mobile SPV handset, but the new program now also takes in the Series 60 platform and the Access Linux Platform.

Reuters contributed to this report. David Meyer of ZDNet UK reported from Barcelona.