Mobile Linux gains momentum

Trolltech's launch of a 'fully reprogrammable' Linux phone could boost use of open source in the mobile industry
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

Linux is picking up more support in the mobile industry as a challenger to established players such as Symbian and Microsoft.

Mobile operating system maker Trolltech claimed on Tuesday that it was kick-starting the mobile Linux market by launching the Greenphone, a Linux-powered handset that it claims is fully reprogrammable.

Typically, mobile phone handsets are locked down by the manufacturer or operator so users can't easily change or tinker with the core software. By making the Greenphone available to independent software developers, Trolltech is hoping to encourage them to develop and test applications for Linux phones.

Trolltech is also hoping that this will strengthen the position of its Linux mobile application platform and user interface, which is called Qtopia.

Greenphone will be offered as part of a complete software development kit (SDK) and includes Trolltech's Qtopia Phone Edition.

"Although not intended as a commercial mobile phone, Greenphone has many of the communication functions and features found in today's sophisticated smartphones. Developers can exploit these features and functions in developing their own unique applications," said Trolltech in a statement.

Tony Cripps, Ovum analyst, believes that the Greenphone probably is the first open Linux phone released to developers. However, he believes that industry giants such as Motorola are more likely to drive the market forward.

Back in June a mobile Linux alliance was formed between Motorola, NEC, Panasonic Mobile Communications, Samsung Electronics, NTT DoCoMo and Vodafone. They said they would work together to develop a common mobile Linux-based platform.

"There needs to be a standardised version of Linux for mobile, if it's to be successful," explained Cripps. "It's the operators who will decide which platforms they are prepared to support."

Motorola has been backing Linux for some time, and shipped over a million Linux-based phones in China in the second quarter of this year. On Tuesday, it revealed that 50 to 60 percent of its phone platforms will be Linux-based within the next couple of years.

Greg Besio, vice president of mobile device software, told CNET News.com (ZDNet UK's sister site) that Motorola hoped to help specify standard modules of Linux software — at low levels such as the kernel and higher levels such as applications.

It also wants to encourage other companies to consider throwing their weight behind the co-operative programming effort.

"If we make the investment, then another will make the investment, and then we start to get the power of the ecosystem in Linux," Besio said.

CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.

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