Qualcomm joins No. 2 handset maker Motorola, Japanese cell phone operator NTT DoCoMo and other major wireless companies in endorsing Linux.
The cell phone industry generally yawned in 2003 when No. 1 handset maker Nokia began a push to use Linux, which at the time was a radical departure in an industry where the software that powers phones was always proprietary. Ongoing development work has apparently smoothed over many of the early problems that Linux had adapting to the cell phone environment.
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, given that it's free for manufacturers to use. Dominating the OS market now is Symbian, a London-based consortium, followed by an operating system from Microsoft.
Interest in Linux by cell phone manufacturers started in January 2003, when handset maker Nokia released software to let Linux programmers develop Java software for its cell phones. In February of that year, Motorola outlined ambitious plans to make most of its phones run on Linux. Motorola introduced its first Linux phone, the A760, in August 2004.
From San Diego-based Qualcomm's perspective, Linux is the first "third party" cell phone operating system that the company has supported in its 20-year history. The company left the door open Thursday to support other operating systems as well.
"We are expanding to address the growing market interests for Linux as well as other third-party operating systems," said Qualcomm CDMA Technologies President Sanjay Jha.
Linux will be supported initially by Qualcomm's MSM 6550 chips, introduced in September 2003 and now underpinning 30 different cell phones that use versions of Qualcomm's patented CDMA technology. The company hinted that future chipsets will support the operating system but declined to offer specifics.