Linux crashes the mobile party

Summary:Cutting costs by deploying Linux is a well-established strategy on the server and even the desktop, but what effect could it have on the cost of mobile computing?

...a reason for this broad adoption. "Linux from the word go has been designed as a multi-user operating system," Lawson says. "It is easier to restrict access to particular data files and capabilities and prevent malicious access by third-party applications — the raw materials for that are available in Linux."

Lawson also thinks that another key strength of Microsoft's — Windows' ubiquity and the leagues of developers writing for the platform — could in turn become a strength of the mobile Linux movement. "Microsoft skills are widely available, but Linux is increasingly taught in universities. There are generations of engineers coming out with the relevant skills," he says.

Trolltech's Qtopia application-development platform, which is built on Qt, is geared towards embedded devices and handsets — notably Skype's internet telephony devices. "IT managers should be thinking about VoIP," says Lawson. "Expect to see Linux and Qtopia appearing on VoIP phones and desk phones — you are unlikely to see Windows running on a desk phone any time soon."

"Linux on the desktop and the mobile puts pressure on Microsoft to push their prices down, which is also good for the IT manager," continues Lawson. "Within five years we will see widespread adoption of mobile Linux as part of the corporate infrastructure."

However, it is clear that mobile Linux will be most widely seen in the consumer sector. Probably the most successful deployment of a Linux-based handset thus far has been Motorola's A1200 "Ming" phone, a touchscreen device which was one of the most popular phones of 2006 in China and elsewhere. The Qtopia-based platform used on the Ming has since acquired a name — MOTOMAGX. Motorola officially launched the platform in August with the declaration that it would be on 60 percent of the company's handsets within a few years.

"What we found, when we looked at our ability to come to market with products more quickly, was that Linux was going to be an extremely strategic platform going forward," says Christy Wyatt, Motorola's vice president of software platforms and ecosystems. "We expect it come down into the feature phone space, not just the smartphone. It's getting into our more iconic, mainstream handsets."

Motorola's motivation in backing mobile Linux is, according to Wyatt, the company's focus on the phone's software as a critical differentiator. "If you believe that the software experience matters as much as the hardware, then Linux makes a lot of sense," she says. "It offers a rich ecosystem and a rich set of tools, and there is a lot of investment happening across the industry. When we're dealing with an open platform we can easily respond to our customers' requirements."

Despite mobile Linux's lack of a track record in the enterprise, Wyatt suggests that — when the time comes — IT managers will welcome it with open arms. "Most IT organisations are already very familiar with Linux and there are a lot of analogies and lessons learned in that segment that we can take into mobile: for example, security. If they knew their devices were running Linux, it would probably give them comfort."

Wyatt speaks glowingly about the work of the LiMo Foundation, which Motorola founded in 2006 alongside NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic, Samsung and Vodafone (although companies such as ARM, LG and Broadcom have since joined). "We've invested a lot in creating that forum and are very happy with the number of partners," she says. "The opportunity for these large manufacturers and distro providers to share a common code gives us a stable platform that is attractive to developers and helps us target them in a consistent way. With Linux we have an opportunity to hopefully engineer past some of the mistakes we made with other platforms, such as Java and native implementations."

However, despite the LiMo Foundation's stated aim of creating...

Topics: Tech Industry


David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't be paying many bills. His early journalistic career was spent in general news, working behind the scenes for BBC radio and on-air as a newsreader for independent stations. David's main focus is on communications, of both... Full Bio

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