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Linux gets a phone call from Openwave

The company that sells more wireless browsers than anyone else in the world says its browser and e-mail software for cell phones is now compatible with the open-source operating system.

Openwave Systems said Thursday that its browser and e-mail software for cell phones is now compatible with Linux, which strengthens a Motorola-led push to use the open-source operating system in mobile phones.

Several major handset manufacturers have expressed an interest in the Linux-compatible version of Openwave's Phone Suite software, but Brian Dally, director of client software product management, said he could not disclose the companies' identities.

Linux is free for manufacturers to use because it's collectively created by a large group of open-source programmers. Although the operating system is gaining popularity inside personal computers and laptops, the only major handset maker to adopt Linux is Motorola. The world's No. 2 handset maker plans to use the operating system in many of its phones and hopes to dramatically reduce its costs by doing so.

But most handset makers have balked at using Linux. One oft-cited reason is that major wireless application makers such as Seven and Openwave had heretofore failed to create Linux-compatible Web browser, short message service or other applications now considered standard for the world's 1.1 billion cell phones, Dally said.

"As good as Linux is, it doesn't include all the things you need to build a phone," Dally said.

Openwave's adoption of Linux is important because the company sells more wireless browsers than anyone else in the world, beating even handset-making king Nokia. Its software now sits inside about a third of the world's handsets.

The Thursday announcement also carries a minor historical footnote. Dally said that with the addition of Linux, the company's software is now compatible with three major operating systems used in "smart phones," which have advanced features such as thousand-entry contact lists or video players.

The two dominant smart phone operating systems are from Microsoft and Symbian, a private company owned by Nokia and other major handset makers. Both Symbian and Microsoft use homegrown browsers and e-mail software.

Openwave claims to be the first company to have produced software that supports the three smart-phone operating systems.