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Second open Linux handset unveiled

Taiwanese manufacturer FIC will bring out PDA-style programmable Linux handset at half the price of Trolltech's Greenphone. Photos: FIC's Neo1973

A second reprogrammable open Linux handset has been unveiled, only months after Trolltech introduced its Linux-based Greenphone to the developer community.

At the Open Source in Mobile event under way this week in Amsterdam, Sean Moss-Pultz of Taiwanese hardware manufacturer First International Computer introduced delegates to the Neo1973 smartphone, which runs a Linux-based environment called OpenMoko.

"For the first time, the mobile ecosystem will be as open as the PC, and mobile applications equally as diverse and more easily accessible," said Moss-Pultz on Tuesday.

As with Trolltech's Greenphone, announced in August, the idea behind the Neo1973 is to provide developers with a fully programmable Linux-based handset for which they can develop applications. FIC appears to be aiming for a commercial launch sometime next year.

The Neo1973's PDA-styled form factor is also markedly different from that of the candy-bar Greenphone, and the device will cost about $350--half the price of the Greenphone.

The Neo1973 is compatible with GSM networks at 850MHz, 900MHz, 1,800MHz and 1,900MHz, so it should work in Europe, the U.S. and much of Asia.

Mobile open-source software company Funambol has announced it will provide e-mail and mobile applications for the device. "The largest mobile open-source project in the world has just joined with the largest open-design manufacturer in the world to deliver on the promise of a fully open mobile phone for the mass market," said Funambol's chief executive officer, Fabrizio Capobianco. "We're looking forward to working with OpenMoko and the folks from FIC on this trailblazing project."

Speaking at the event, Trolltech's product director, Adam Lawson, told ZDNet UK that FIC's project was "another reinforcement of the view that Linux will be successful in mobiles."

"We don't have a monopoly on great ideas, so we're pleased to see other attempts to engage with the community," Lawson said, while also suggesting that Moss-Pultz's presentation had "raised more questions than it answered."

Lawson pointed out certain difficulties with the concept of taking a fully programmable Linux phone into the mass market, warning that "if you are serious about marketing it as an end-user device, you have to be a lot more careful with certification."

"The openness of this OpenMoko device, if it is intended for broad consumer use, does raise a lot of questions about security," Lawson added, while pointing out that the Greenphone "exists already and there is a very significant community of developers that support Trolltech."

However, Lawson said he hoped FIC's initiative would "also be successful" and joked that it was "great, for once, for Trolltech not to have to be explaining to everyone about Linux and mobile."

David Meyer of ZDNet UK reported from London.