Big plans for Linux on mobile phones

A company pushing Linux into the mobile space is gunning for Microsoft and Symbian

Embedded Linux specialist Trolltech has claimed that Linux will soon be a major competitor to Symbian and Windows Mobile.

Haavard Nord, the chief executive of Trolltech, which makes the Qtopia application platform for Linux-based mobiles, said on Thursday that it expects the proportion of phones running the Linux operating system to increase significantly.

"Our goal is to see at least 100 million phones shipped with Linux and Qtopia in 2008, which represents about 15 percent of the estimated combined mid-range and high-end phone market in 2008," said Nord. "We believe that in two to three years the main software platforms for phones will be Symbian Series 60, [Windows] Mobile and Linux Qtopia."

Samsung and Trolltech unveiled what they claimed was the world's first 3G smartphone built on Linux last week, at the 3GSM World Congress. But smartphones are only the beginning, according to Nord.

"The smartphone is a stepping stone for Linux," said Nord. "In the next few years it will move into the feature phone and mid-range phone market -- this is where Linux will be really big."

Trolltech is already working with 20 different phone manufacturers, including "some of the largest handset manufacturers in the world," said Nord.

Linux has various advantages over proprietary operating systems such as Symbian and Windows Mobile, Nord said. He claims that the software stack for a Linux smartphone will cost significantly less than one running Windows Mobile or Symbian once advantages of scale come into play.

"Our goal is to help commoditise the software in mobile phones and we are working towards a three- to five-dollar software budget for a smartphone," said Nord. "In large quantities Qtopia Phone costs a dollar or less. In addition a handset maker will need Java and a browser. When combining these components it is realistic to reach a three to five dollar goal."

The open source operating should also give handset makers more freedom to modify the user interface.

"This sets Linux apart," said Nord. "For example, if you want to build a phone using the Microsoft operating system it is pretty restricted what you can do with the user interface due to the licensing agreement between the customer and Microsoft. Microsoft wants to make sure everyone knows it’s a Windows Mobile phone so it limits what branding you can put on the phone."

But Qtopia is facing strong competition. Symbian, traditionally strong in the smartphone space, wants to move into the mid-range feature phone space, and Microsoft has teamed up with Flextronics to develop a mobile phone platform for low-cost feature phones

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