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LiMo sets standard for mobile Linux widgets

As well as endorsing the Bondi web app standard, the LiMo Foundation has also announced that Vodafone, Orange and O2 will be bringing out Linux phones this year
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The LiMo Foundation, a major mobile industry consortium devoted to spreading Linux across handsets, has agreed on a common standard for developing mini web applications, or widgets, for phones.

LiMo announced its endorsement of the Bondi specification on Monday. Bondi draws on web standards such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript, which makes it easier for developers already coding for the web to write widgets for mobile phones. The strategy is similar to one recently adopted by Palm.

The idea behind Bondi was to "create a common standard for mobile handsets, which web apps or widgets can use in order to access the handsets and interact with the data locally held on the handset", LiMo executive director Morgan Gillis told ZDNet UK last week.

"The area of widget development in the mobile industry has thus far been proprietary and fragmented," Gillis said. "Apple and Nokia have their own widget standards. In LiMo, we saw the need to identify and stand behind a common web app standard which will be independent of handset vendors, models and operators. This is quite a big deal — all the LiMo membership are endorsing the Bondi standard [which will be] deployed to mobile handsets [in the future]."

The LiMo approach to mobile Linux involves a standardised middleware layer that operators and manufacturers build into handsets. By contrast, Google's Android platform is an entire stack that incorporates the operating system, middleware and applications. Compared with Android, LiMo's approach means that owners will be less likely to be aware that they are using a "LiMo phone". However, it does give operators greater control over the user interfaces and applications that they want to put on top of the middleware layer.

LiMo, which brings together many operators, manufacturers and application development companies, made several other announcements on Monday. Crucially, the organisation's board now includes O2-owner Telefonica and the South Korean SK Telecom; the board already counts operators Vodafone, DoCoMo, Verizon and Orange as members. This leaves T-Mobile, the only operator to have released an Android phone, as the only major UK phone company missing from the board.

All six operator members of the board have confirmed plans to "bring LiMo handsets to market within 2009", Gillis said.

Asked whether there was a chance of Bondi-compliant widgets making their way onto other types of mobile devices, Gillis said: "Yes, there absolutely is." He would not, however, be drawn as to what types of devices he meant. Rival mobile platforms such as Android have been unofficially ported across to other portable machines, such as netbooks and mobile internet devices (MIDs).

Gillis said it would be "terrific" if rival initiatives such as Android supported the common Bondi standard, but said this was unlikely to happen in the near term. He pointed out that the Dalvik programming environment used in Android was specific to that platform, and stressed that while Android relied almost entirely on Google's contributions, LiMo was created through a "truly collaborative effort" across the industry.

"This is more than just an engineering difference," Gillis said. "It is inevitable that, where a single company owns the platform, that that will impinge on platform roadmapping decisions and potentially impinge on the struggle for control of the mobile user experience."

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