LiPS Unsealed as Mobile Linux Group Rolls Out Specs

The Linux Phone Standards (LiPS) Forum announced Monday the publication of its first specifications aimed at fostering interoperability across the Linux-based mobile phone market.

The first installment of LiPS Release 1.0 includes a reference model, address book and voice call enabler, as well as user interface services such as widget sets, navigation and text input method APIs (application programming interfaces).

Specs for telephony, messaging, calendar and instant messaging are among the remaining components of Release 1.0, and are due by the year’s end. Planned for release in 2008 are the application framework, services APIs, device management APIs and additional enabler APIs, such as for multimedia.

Paving the Way

Formed in 2005, LiPS seeks to standardize Linux-based services and APIs so developers can create mobile applications for use across different Linux phones.

“This first set of specifications represents real-world requirements as well as hard work on the part of key mobile ecosystem participants,” noted Haila Wang, president of the LiPS Forum.

“Ongoing elaboration and adoption of the LiPS standards specifications will sustain the impressive growth of mobile Linux deployment, enhancing interoperability among devices and software, and streamlining time-to-market and rollout for Linux-based devices and services,” Wang said.

Combating Fragmentation

The specifications will help propel the mobile Linux industry by reducing fragmentation and by informing and aligning OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), ISVs (independent software vendors), operators and other standards bodies, LiPS said.

“LiPS belongs to a new class of industry forums whose standards development model is closer to open source principles, i.e. standardization through public specifications and reference code implementations, rather than just paper-based,” commented Andreas Constantinou, senior analyst with VisionMobile and author of a forthcoming strategic report on mobile open source.

“LiPS release 1.0 will be important in helping Linux implementations converge, especially around telephony, PIM and UI services, where fragmentation is stalling otherwise unanimous manufacturer momentum behind mobile Linux,” Constantinou said.

The LiPS Forum comprises 20 companies from around the world. Founding members include Access, ARM, Cellon International, Esmertec, France Telecom, Orange, Huawei Technologies, MIZI Research, MontaVista Software, Open-Plug and VirtualLogix.

Role of Manufacturers

“Linux has a lot of promise for mobile phones, but if it’s not picked up in a significant way by manufacturers, it will be limited in its ability to make a dent in the marketplace,” Neil Strother, wireless analyst for JupiterResearch, told LinuxInsider.

Motorola has been promoting mobile Linux in Asia, Strother noted, but it will take the support of other major manufacturers as well to make significant inroads into the market, he added.

“There are already a lot of other operating systems in the mobile market, so this is joining a crowded field,” Strother explained. “I don’t think it’s going to set the world on fire, at least not yet.”

The Power of Choice

Successful implementation of Linux in the mobile arena would bring many benefits to consumers and enterprise users, most notably the ability to choose from among multiple quality mobile applications in any given area, added Bill Hughes, principal analyst with In-Stat.

However, there is a potential for confusion that could sidetrack the efforts of groups like LiPS, he told LinuxInsider.

“One of my main concerns with Linux in a mobile environment is that there’s a real danger that the marketplace is going to be confused about what really constitutes a Linux phone,” Hughes said.

Potential for Confusion

In current implementations of Linux phones, “there’s no argument that the Linux kernel is present on the device, but there are really no open standards that third-party developers can use,” he explained. “The vision for a Linux-based phone is of 100 percent portability across platforms, and that’s not where we are right now.”

Ultimately, more involvement from the Linux community may be essential to prevent confusion, he added. “I really hope the LiPS forum is successful, and that proprietary implementations don’t hijack the expectations that end users have about Linux,” Hughes said.

“It’s not effective for the Linux community to say that mobile implementations don’t affect them,” he concluded. “If mobile Linux is derailed by proprietary interests, everyone will be tarred by that brush.”

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