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Penguin Goes Mobile

A gaggle of big-name operators wants to bring a standardized Linux-based software system to the mobile world. The move could be more of a threat to Symbian Ltd. , in the low-to-medium end of the market, rather than high-end enterprise smartphones powered by operating systems from Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) and others.

Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701), NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), Panasonic Mobile Communications Co. Ltd. , Samsung Corp. , and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) said this week that they plan to collaborate on an open-source Linux-based software platform for mobile phones. The collaborators intend to formalize a coalition around the concept by the end of the year and will invite other vendors on board.

The companies are planning to put together a reference mobile operating system together with standardized APIs (application programming interfaces) that would allow developers to easily hook their own applications into the mix. The idea is that having a standardized Linux base to operate from would make it easier and cheaper for vendors to get cellphones out on the market and avoid some of the issues with incompatibilities between different versions of Linux.

Richard Windsor, analyst at Nomura Securities, says that a standardized Linux operating system could pose a threat to the current major players in the cellphone OS world -- but the consortium will need to sort out some issues first.

"Symbian and Microsoft will face a bigger challenge from the Linux consortium, but it is going to be some time in coming," Windsor says. "Linux must first sort out its fragmentation, cost issues, and then catch up technologically.”

”The problem is, current Linux implementations -- of which there are very few -- are unique to every phone, and so building up an ecosystem of apps and consistent user interface is very hard,” elaborates analyst Jack Gold of J.Gold Associates. “So this is about rationalizing a Linux-based platform so you don’t need to recreate the entire environment every time a new phone comes out.”

The Linux consortium, Gold adds, shapes up as more of a thrust against Symbian. “This group needs to focus on building low- to mid-range smart phone devices. This may have an impact on some enterprise users at the low end of the smartphone space, but I don’t think this is much of a threat to Microsoft, at least not in the next few years.”

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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