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?

...co-operation with the LiMo Foundation. "I can see all sorts of ways to work together — if we were to merge our efforts that would be fine," he says, pointing to the LiPS Forum's track record of collaboration. "Last year we announced co-operation with another important standards body, the Open Source Development Labs, which has since merged with the Free Standards Group and is now called the Linux Foundation. Rather than duplicate efforts, LiPS will build on top of that in the mobile services and applications arena."

Yet all the collaboration in the world would mean nothing without the involvement of the mobile operators. Happily for mobile Linux, some providers have seen a lot of potential down the open-source route (Jones suggests that they see a unified approach to the platform as a way to reduce the power of the handset manufacturers). Vodafone in particular has become an enthusiastic sponsor, announcing last year that it wanted to pare its range of mobile operating systems down to a triumvirate of Windows Mobile, Symbian/Series 60 and Linux.

"Vodafone chose Linux as one of its three terminal platforms because it wanted an open, competitive alternative to incumbent proprietary platforms, offering manufacturers greater freedom to innovate," a spokesperson tells ZDNet.co.uk. "The key advantages of Linux for Vodafone are that it enables manufacturers to share development costs, thereby enabling greater product flexibility at lower costs."

"Linux also supports open participation in contribution, development and test environments, providing the basis for continuous quality improvement," adds Vodafone's spokesperson. "Open source is also extremely good at providing basic assets at a lower cost while the flexible licensing frameworks encourage competition and innovation."

Vodafone's spokesperson shows a middling degree of satisfaction with the pace of progress ("Vodafone is actively engaged with several suppliers on Linux-based product development, so in this respect we are happy with the momentum"), but predicts that products "in the mid to high tier" will appear in the operator's lineup in 2008-2009.

Ultimately, it may not matter what operating system a smartphone is running on. In fact, it may not even matter whether the phone is classed as "enterprise grade".

As the iPhone has recently demonstrated, an increasing number of business applications, such as NetSuite and WebEx, can work on any phone that has a browser. "Don't look upon mobile Linux as a platform to write applications to at this point in time — it is currently a platform on which to run Java or mobile web applications," suggests Jones. "There is a strong trend of web technologies driving into the mobile space. In a sense, the cellular platform is becoming indistinguishable from a slow broadband link."

"At the thick client end of the scale, you worry about the APIs, having a lightweight database on the device, salesforce automation, CRM — there you do worry about the operating system on the platform," says Jones. "But, increasingly, there are the less critical applications, where you are operating within signal coverage, where the web model is going to be good enough."

Topics: Tech Industry

About

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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