The use of Linux as a mobile operating system (OS) has been steadily growing, with an increasing number of companies announcing plans to develop Linux platforms.
Uniquely positioned in the OS space with implementations in both the smartphone and feature phone segments, Linux is in sharp contrast to Symbian, Windows Mobile and Palm which have focused on the smartphone segment. However, Linux phones still represent a small segment of the overall handset market.
Some key benefits of Linux as a mobile OS include its small kernel size, open source, and low (no) cost. As a result, there are a number of Linux-based solutions in the marketplace including products from MontaVista and Wind River and proprietary systems utilized by Motorola, ACCESS, BenQ, and others. In addition, PalmSource has announced the development of its Access Linux Platform (ALP) for smartphones, which IMS Research believes may be commercially available in late 2007.
This does not mean that Linux is without challenges. The most significant of these is the lack of a single set of standards. There are currently a number of industry organizations that are trying to address this issue, including the Linux Phone Standards forum (LiPS), the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) Mobile Linux Initiative, and the Mobilinux Open Framework Platform to name a few. Despite these efforts, there has not been significant forward progress on a platform standard.
The recent announcement from Motorola, NTT DoCoMo, Vodaphone, NEC, Panasonic, and Samsung Electronics that they will form a foundation to pursue a uniform open Linux-based platform could mark a turning point for the future of Linux as a mobile OS. Foundation members have stated that they hope to see the first handsets shipping based on the uniform platform by 2007.
While this might appear to be an ambitious goal, it is important to note the considerable experience that each of the member companies has with Linux. In particular, NTT DoCoMo has been utilizing MOAP-L, a Linux derivative on their Japanese handsets, while Motorola has been using EZX for several of their models. This experience should help to streamline the development process.