Mobile Linux standards rocked by merger

The attempted standardisation of mobile Linux has been put on hold indefinitely, after the Linux Phone Standards Forum announced it was to merge with the Linux Mobile Foundation.

The attempted standardisation of mobile Linux has been put on hold indefinitely, after the Linux Phone Standards Forum announced it was to merge with the Linux Mobile Foundation.

The merger was announced on Friday. The Linux Phone Standards (LiPS) Forum was formed in November 2005, around seven months before the Linux Mobile (LiMo) Foundation came together. The two groups were in many ways complementary: LiPS wanted to create a formal standard for mobile Linux, and LiMo wanted to create a shared implementation of an open-source mobile platform. LiPS did release an initial set of specifications in December last year, but further work on such standardisation is now effectively on hold.

Many members of LiPS — including Trolltech, Orange and Access — began to migrate over to LiMo, however, as new mobile open source groups, like the Google-led Open Handset Alliance, began to apply competitive pressure and the industry became more interested in time-to-market than formal standards.

"LiPS set itself up to be a standards body in a fairly formal way," LiPS's outgoing head, Bill Weinberg, told ZDNet.com.au sister site ZDNet.co.uk on Thursday. "LiMo has, by its own description, a more pragmatic approach of producing implementations — they're not a deliberative standards body. LiPS was initially in a position to inform organisations like LiMo and others. We put in a substantial investment in time and energy, beyond membership dues. [LiPS and LiMo] were initially complementary [but the focus is now on an] ad hoc standard."

LiMo chief Morgan Gillis told ZDNet.co.uk on Wednesday that LiPS "was a very sincere effort to create coalescence on mobile Linux, but LiMo has offered a different formula which has clearly proven to be more attractive to the industry". Asked whether the idea of creating a formal specification for mobile Linux was now dead, he said: "All the LiPS [intellectual property] assets are being transferred to LiMo, and we hope to make good use of that."

"I don't know [whether the standardisation process is now dead]," Weinberg said. "The outcome of work by organisations like LiMo, Android and others may end up creating a standard that is more formalised after the fact. There's a question of pace; standardisation bodies tend to operate in a more deliberative and stately fashion, but commercial interests are interested primarily in having code to work with. The sense of urgency in the industry has to do with the feeling that other players are breathing down their necks. An injection of urgency can cause a change in course and a change in plans."

Weinberg suggested that this change of pace was an indirect result of the introduction of Apple's iPhone. "It's... a domino effect," he said. "The introduction of the iPhone made Google view the phone market in a slightly different way, and gave them a sense of urgency and made them change course."

"Google were not set to deliver a platform so much as a phone before the iPhone came along. Android is not so much a Linux [platform] but more of a Java-based [platform]. After those two announcements, I saw interest in organisations like LiMo heat up as a way, I suppose, of continuing investment in a shared implementation around Linux," Weinberg said.

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