Verizon, Mozilla Join Mobile Linux Group

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Verizon Wireless is throwing its support behind mobile Linux, becoming the first U.S. operator to join the LiMo Foundation, a group developing mobile Linux technology.

The LiMo Foundation, started by companies including Motorola, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic, NEC and Samsung, is one of several initiatives working to unify mobile Linux development so that applications can run across phones with different Linux implementations. The LiMo Foundation has built a standard middleware layer that can run on different mobile Linux operating systems.

In addition to Verizon, the LiMo Foundation plans to announce on Wednesday that Mozilla, SK Telecom, Infineon Technologies, Red Bend Software, Sagem Mobiles, SFR and Kvaleberg AS are also joining the group. Verizon will hold a board seat.

Late last year, Mozilla said it was planning to get serious about developing a mobile browser. Joining LiMo could be "their ticket to get visibility," said Ken Dulaney, an analyst with Gartner.

LiMo has largely eclipsed the Linux Phone Standards (LiPS) Forum, an organization that is setting mobile Linux standards. LiMo is not creating official standards, but offering its members technology that was developed and contributed by members.

But LiMo still must contend with Android, Google's mobile Linux operating system in development.

Verizon could also throw its support behind Android. In a Business Week story late last year, Verizon Wireless' president said the operator would use Android, but the company later backpedalled and said it didn't have any solid plans to do so. AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint have all said they plan to support Android phones.

"They'll take whatever sells," said Dulaney of Verizon's likelihood of supporting Android.

Google could, theoretically, join LiMo, said Andrew Shikiar, director of global marketing for the LiMo Foundation. "LiMo is a very open organization… anyone can join," he said. In the meantime, Google is developing the same type of technology that LiMo has released. "I think there's some frustration with Google in the development community with what they see as a redundant effort at Google," said Shikiar.

Google did not reply to a request for comment on its potential participation in the LiMo Foundation.

Despite growing interest in the idea of using Linux on mobile phones, growth in the actual market isn't happening. Worldwide shipments of Linux phones in 2007 were essentially the same as the previous year, according to research from Canalys. Analysts there blame fragmentation for the slow growth. But operators and manufacturers are interested in Linux because it can allow them to get phones on the market quickly and price them cheaply, Dulaney said. Linux phones will be mainly directed at consumers, where differentiation is important, he said.

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