LiPs, LiMo Join Hands in Mobile Linux Fray

Two associations representing complementary interests have agreed to merge their resources to develop a stronger ecosystem around Linux mobile development.

The Linux Phone Standards Forum, or LiPS, has been working toward a formal standard for mobile Linux since its formation at the end of 2005. Nearly a year later, the Linux Mobile Foundation, aka “LiMo,” emerged to develop shared implementation practices for an open source mobile platform.

The two groups share the same goal — to develop a strong mobile Linux platform and community. However, they have chosen different means to achieve it, Bill Weinberg, general manager of LiPS and chair of the Mobile Linux Conference, explained. “One was [working on] standards, and one was focused on implementation.”

Parity Bound

The purpose of the merger is to husband resources in support of practical goals, Weinberg told LinuxInsider.

Linux mobile can be found on many smartphones in the U.S. — Motorola’s Razrs started shipping with it, for example, and China has been shipping Linux mobile phones for four years.

“Linux is already deployed in 50 million smartphones. It is clear we are heading to parity — by 2010 according to some analysts — with Symbian and Windows Mobile,” noted Weinberg.

Through the LiPS and LiMO union, he said, “we intend to work towards creating more pull in the ecosystem.”

Another factor driving the groups to merge is the concern about fragmentation in Linux mobile. “There has been a lot of hand wringing over the fact that there is no single source for a completed mobile Linux standard,” Weinberg said, “which is problematic if you are an application writer.”

Time to Market

LiPS did release some specs on a standard last year. However, the industry is also grappling with competitive pressures, and many companies are more concerned about getting products in the hands of users than about the creation of a formal standard.

This week, for instance, Nokia announced it would buy the rest of the Symbian mobile operating system and eventually open source it under the Eclipse Public License.

Then there is Google’s Android platform, which is officially slated to deliver its first releases later this year. Reports suggest the launch may be pushed back to 2009, however.

Among its dual goals, LiPS and LiMO want to build better middleware for the applications that have already been developed. “There are silos of functionality that need to be defined and integrated with one another,” Weinberg pointed out.

“The challenge today is to be timely and relevant in a fast moving market,” he said.

Community Approval

The community appears to be supportive of this approach. “One of the doubled-edged swords about the success we have in working with key customers to bring out Linux-based phones was the number of groups that were forming,” said Jim Ready, founder and CTO of MontaVista Software, a contributor to the Linux community and an active LiMO member.

“You would see our friends at Motorola joining every one of them,” he told LinuxInsider, which meant a split in precious industry resources.

The streamlining effected by the move also won plaudits from Michel Gien, cofounder and executive vice president of corporate strategy at VirtualLogix: “We don’t want to have two groups basically working towards the same goals but through a different approach.”

By focusing their energies collaboratively, Gien told LinuxInsider, members of the two groups can strengthen the ecosystem around Linux mobile phones and build greater momentum for development.

For VirtualLogix, specifically, the move means the company can have a more pervasive footprint in the Linux community, especially as it tries to expand its reach into the lower end of the market.

The two groups’ combined focus “will help Linux move into the lower end of the mobile phone market,” Gien said, which is likely to be the next big competitive battleground.

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