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Mobile Linux groups fuse to advance unified OS

The Linux Phone Standards Forum is folding its work and its membership into the LiMo Foundation

By , Network World
June 26, 2008 12:35 PM ET

Network World - The mobile Linux industry is in motion. One industry group focused on writing standards for mobile Linux is closing its doors and blending its efforts with another industry group focused on writing mobile Linux code.

The realignment could put new energy and momentum into the work of creating a viable, uniform Linux operating system for mobile phones, and make inroads into the dominance of the Symbian and Microsoft Windows Mobile platforms. The mobile Linux movement has struggled with multiple, overlapping organizations and projects.

The news comes on the heals of a move by several major mobile-phone and electronics manufacturers banding together to create a single, open mobile-software-platform standard based on the Symbian operating system.

At the end of this month, the Linux Phone Standards (LiPS) Forum will cease operations, folding its work and its membership into the LiMo Foundation (LiMo standing for Linux Mobile). The intent is to accelerate development of a unified open source platform for mobile phones, says LiPS General Manager Bill Weinberg, 

LiMo's work is similar to that of the Google-led Android project, unveiled last year. Android also is creating a Linux-based software stack for mobile devices.

The move is not a surprise, with some LiPS members previously shifting to LiMo exclusively or joining both it and the forum.

"Both groups focus on enabling middleware," Weinberg says. One group was more deliberative, the other more deadline-oriented. LiPS' goal was forming standards that could be adopted in various open source projects dealing with mobile phones. It completed the first edition of its standard late in 2007. LiMo from the outset was engaged in code writing, creating an integrated set of software frameworks to handle a dozen key middleware functions, such as multimedia, networking, digital rights management and messaging.

Formal standards never really caught on among the Linux mobile community, Weinberg suggests. "It seems the industry is comfortable with ad hoc standards," he says. There are a number of LiMo working groups that overlap with the forum's work, he adds.

By aligning with a single organization, mobile-Linux advocates can start to create the kind of central reference point for Linux that Windows Mobile has had in Microsoft and Symbian will have through the newly-formed Symbian Foundation, according to Weinberg. "The Linux [mobile] stack is coalescing quite nicely from the bottom up. [Independent software vendors], manufacturers and carriers are now innovating with a more clearly defined stack," he says. "Mobile Linux is emerging more clearly as a definite software 'entity,'" he adds, instead of a collection of Linux kernels plagued by "interoperability angst."

Symbian clearly dominates the global mobile-phone market, Weinberg says. Windows Mobile has particular strength in the smartphone segment of that market. "The smartphone is 8% to 10% of a billion-unit market," he says. "That's not small potatoes, but it's still the shallow end of the pool," he says. Overall, the platform with the current fastest growth is Linux, he says.

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