LiMo Foundation ready with mobile Linux OS

The nonprofit industry consortium has delivered its first release of a mobile Linux operating system, but the goal of reducing fragmentation might not arrive until next year--at least from LiMo.

Tom Krazit
Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
2 min read

Google's Android may get all the attention, but there's more than one industry consortium working to unify Linux development for mobile phones.

The nonprofit LiMo Foundation plans to announce the launch of LiMo Platform Release 1 at the CTIA show in Las Vegas Monday. Release 1 gives handset makers and carriers the basic operating system software needed to run a phone, leaving it up to them to put a crowd-pleasing user inferface and applications on top of that phone software.

"This is a significant achievement for LiMo in that we now have a complete fully released version of the platform that our members are free to distribute," said Andrew Shikiar, director of global marketing for the LiMo Foundation. More than 30 mobile-phone companies are members of LiMo, including heavyweights Samsung, Motorola, Vodafone, NTT DoCoMo, and newest member Texas Instruments.

There's no shortage of interest among the mobile-phone industry elite in using Linux on their phones. Linux provides a compelling alternative for the mobile world to commercial operating systems like Symbian or Windows Mobile since it's cheaper and not controlled by a huge company (Nokia and Microsoft, respectively). Also, its modular nature allows handset makers and carriers to put together an implementation that makes the most sense for their customers or geography.

However, that's also part of the problem with mobile Linux. All those different implementations of Linux force application developers to tweak their programs for each different implementation; that's a ton of work. The resulting fragmentation has limited Linux to lower-end mobile phones, with the higher-end smartphone development community largely organized around Symbian, Windows Mobile, Research In Motion's BlackBerry, and Apple's growing iPhone business.

Hence the LiMo foundation's goal, which is to produce a common platform that various members can use to run mobile phones, and ensure application compatibility across different devices. Unfortunately, Release 1 falls short of that goal.

Broader application portability will be accomplished with Release 2, expected out in early 2009, Shikiar said. The second release will also improve the multimedia capabilities of the operating system. By then, however, the Google Effect will have made its first impact on the mobile phone market.

Android, and the Open Handset Alliance created by Google last year, have very much the same goal as LiMo: to unify Linux development for mobile phones. Google boasts a roster of many of the same companies that founded the LiMo foundation just months before Android made its debut, perhaps a hint those companies have now set their sights elsewhere for Linux mobile-phone software.

The first phones to use Android are expected to arrive this summer or fall, just a few months after the first Release Candidate 1 phones arrive. Shikiar said LiMo doesn't see itself as a competitor to Android per se, but it's hard to see how the two organizations aren't jockeying for space inside the same phones.

Phones with Release 1, however, are already in the market, such as Motorola's Razr 2 and Rokr E8. Others are expected to be released later this year, Shikiar said.