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Open mobile OS efforts abound

Existence of multiple initiatives could stunt industry progress

Wireless Alert By Joanie Wexler, Network World
April 16, 2008 12:07 AM ET
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Industry analysis by expert Joanie Wexler, plus links to the day's wireless news headlines

At least three industry consortia are attempting to ease development efforts for mobile application builders with Linux-based, open mobile operating system development initiatives. These efforts carry noble and productive intentions. But if there are multiple ones, leaving one "open" platform to differ from the next, will we be back to where we started?

Three organizations with at least a few overlapping members are out to help build an open mobile OS with associated middleware and starter applications that would drive application innovation across multiple handset platforms. What’s not clear is how having several such efforts will really help achieve the platform-independent goals that would free developers from underlying hardware constraints.

Here’s a snapshot of the various groups:

* LiMo Foundation. Founded in January 2007, LiMo announced availability of its initial Linux-based mobile OS SDK last month. Companies that use LiMo are required to return fixes and optimizations to a central code repository to assure continued OS harmonization. A sampling of members: Access, LG, Motorola, NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic Mobile Communications, Samsung Electronics, Texas Instruments, Vodafone, Wind River; no North American mobile operators yet.

* Linux Phone Standards (LiPS) Forum. Founded in November 2005, LiPS released its SDK V.1 in December 2007. A sampling of its members: Access, Montavista Software, Texas Instruments, several international mobile operators; no North American operators yet.

* Open Handset Alliance. Led by Google, this crowd recently developed the Android mobile OS. Formed in November 2007, it released its SDK the same month and says it is committed to deploying Android handsets and services in the second half of this year. Its SDK is currently based on an Apache 2.0 license, which allows licensees to make changes to code without having to share them with other members of the community. A sampling of its members: Broadcom, LG, Marvel, Motorola, PacketVideo, Qualcomm, Sprint Nextel, Texas Instruments, Wind River, several international mobile operators.

Now, throw the recently announced Apple iPhone developer program and SDK into the mix. This initiative could be considered open from the perspective that nearly anyone can access the specs almost for free. Still, there’s just one platform (the iPhone) and, at this juncture, one mobile network (AT&T’s).

Voila: We have several open initiatives that still make developers choose.

My dad was a gambler. He used to go to the racetrack and place a bet on every horse. That way, he was guaranteed to win. But win big he didn’t, for reasons obvious to the most meager statistician. Similarly, the mobile industry is in a situation where several companies are betting on every open mobile OS horse. And the wins here are likely to be a wash, too.

Read more about wireless & mobile in Network World's Wireless & Mobile section.

Joanie Wexler is an independent networking technology writer/editor in Silicon Valley.

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