Linux phones to get standards boost

A consortium of companies led by mobile operating system makerPalmSource and carrier French Telecom yesterday announced plans tostandardise certain aspects of Linux for mobile phones.

A consortium of companies led by mobile operating system maker PalmSource and carrier French Telecom yesterday announced plans to standardise certain aspects of Linux for mobile phones.

Dubbed the Linux Phone Standards Forum (LiPS), the group's primary goal is to "establish standards for the growing number of companies providing Linux-based technologies for mobile, fixed and converged telephony terminals," according to a statement issued by PalmSource.

"Today is the official kickoff," France Telecom's Haila Wang told journalists at the carrier's Beijing research and development centre.

The executive is the chief technical officer for the centre, which houses amongst other things a number of researchers working on projects dealing with both open source and mobile devices.

The group's founding membership also includes embedded OS specialists FSM Labs and MIZI Research, mobile chip maker ARM Holdings, Linux software vendor MontaVista, Chinese mobile hardware vendor Huawei, embedded-software makers Jaluna and Open Plug, wireless design house Cellon and mobile software developer Esmertec.

Wang said the initial activities of the project would be tri-fold.

Firstly, LiPS would attempt to create a standard application programming interface (API) for the version of Linux that runs on mobile phones, so that applications could run on any device without requiring customisation.

"With the rapid increase of Linux's popularity [on mobile phones], there is an increasing need for industry standards to avoid fragmentation and ensure interoperability of technologies from different vendors," said PalmSource in its statement.

There would consequently need to be a certification process to ensure that each mobile phone maker's version of Linux conformed to that API, added France Telecom's Wang.

A third task would be to help developers building applications on top of the standardised Linux base by providing documentation and other aids.

A PalmSource executive strongly emphasised the company's commitment to the Linux OS in its statement. "Becoming a part of the LiPS Forum further demonstrates our belief in the potential of Linux and our plans to developing on Linux.

"We believe that by simplifying the adoption of Linux in fixed, mobile and converged devices, and working to ensure that they match the requirements of operators and consumers, the LiPS Forum will play an important part in making Linux a truly mass market proposition," said senior vice president of engineering Michael Kelley.

The market for smartphones is currently dominated by the two incumbents Microsoft and Symbian, although popular handset makers Motorola and Nokia have both publicly stated their enthusiasm for Linux as a mobile phone OS.

According to information found on the newly-created LiPS Web site, the first official set of specifications for Linux on mobile phones is due by the second half of 2006.

The founding documents of the consortium also state a desire for a "pragmatic approach to defining standards through incorporation of existing work wherever possible".

In LiPS' case this could mean collaboration with two previous efforts at standardising Linux for mobile phones, carried out by the Open Source Development Lab which employs Linux creator Linus Torvalds, and the Consumer Electronics Linux Forum (CELF).

Attempts to create API standards between Linux vendors are quite widespread in the desktop and server markets. The most well-known is the Linux Standard Base (LSB) project, which claims all of the major Linux vendors as members, as well as a host of other IT companies.

CNET's Stephen Shankland contributed to this article. Renai LeMay travelled to Beijing as a guest of France Telecom.