More heavyweights join mobile Linux group

Orange and Access join the LiMo Foundation to collaborate on its upcoming mobile Linux platform, which promises more applications for users

Orange and Access have become the latest significant companies to join the LiMo Foundation, a consortium aimed at promoting mobile Linux.

The companies announced their LiMo memberships on Monday, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Both companies come bearing gifts. The operator Orange is to launch a "fully open, Linux-powered handset" in partnership with Access and fellow LiMo member Samsung, and Access is offering developers a software development kit (SDK) and developer portal to help port thousands of applications from its Garnet operating system to the new LiMo platform.

Japanese Linux company Access brings with it an established developer network that was acquired when it bought PalmSource and its Palm OS (which became Garnet) in 2005.

Access and France Telecom (Orange's owner) are both members of the LiPS Forum, which is in some ways a rival to the LiMo Foundation. LiPS is trying to come up with a set of shared open specifications for mobile Linux, while LiMo is putting together a shared platform upon which its members can run proprietary applications. LiPS released its first specifications in December 2007, and LiMo's platform will get its first release in March.

Access Europe's director of strategic planning, Michel Piquemal, said LiMo was "reusing" the specifications provided by LiPS. "[The LiPS Forum] has been a key model in creating this momentum in the mobile Linux [industry] two, three years ago," he told ZDNet.co.uk ahead of Monday's announcements. "They were a central piece that produced some key results on the technical specification side."

"LiPS is a place for standards, whereas LiMo is more a marketplace where companies are bringing out real terminals — we need both," said Piquemal.

The handset announced by Orange on Monday is the Samsung i800, scheduled for release later this year. Claiming Orange had been one of the first mobile operators to make significant strides in open source, Orange's director of device development and projects, Yves Maitre, said the i800 launch "shows that we are truly delivering on our commitment to mobilising Linux technology".

"The key benefit of Linux technology is openness — the openness for partners and developers to launch more exciting products and applications than ever before," said Maitre. "To deliver the kind of services our customers want, both now and in the future, we believe it is essential that operators, vendors and developers work together closely to establish a consistent, fully open Linux environment that positively encourages new ideas and reduces fragmentation."

Mobile Linux appeals to many companies in the handset industry, because a consistent platform on multiple manufacturers' devices promises...

...increased developer interest. From an operator's perspective, this means a more expansive inventory of applications to offer its customers, as well as cheaper handsets as mobile phones move towards the PC model of standardised terminals.

Operators also hope that the common platform will significantly speed up the time it takes to get new applications to market. Maitre told ZDNet.co.uk ahead of Monday's announcements that a new application would currently take a year or more to find its way into the hands of the user, but Orange hoped mobile Linux would reduce this to a "matter of months".

Also on Monday, Orange announced that its own application platform would be made available to manufacturers. The "Signature Accelerated Programme" is an extension of Orange's strategy around its Signature devices. That strategy dates back six years to the release of its first Windows Mobile SPV handset, but the new programme now also takes in the Series 60 platform and the Access Linux Platform (ALP).

The selection of platforms is remarkably similar to that announced by Vodafone, a founding member of LiMo, which in 2006 said it wanted to eventually focus its attentions exclusively on Windows Mobile, Symbian/S60 and mobile Linux.

"We are working with these platforms but our philosophy to be as agnostic as possible," said Maitre. "We will consider any good open platform that could support our programme." Notably, Series 60 owner Nokia will itself be aligning with the LiMo Foundation if its recently announced acquisition of LiMo member — and former LiPS member — Trolltech goes ahead.

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