Mobile Linux Groups Join Forces

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After steadily losing membership this year, one of the earliest mobile Linux groups will close and join another faster growing initiative.

On Thursday, the Linux Phone Standards (LiPS) Forum plans to announce that its activities will be folded into the LiMo Foundation starting in July.

The groups had slightly different activities although for a time many companies were members in both. The loss of one such group is likely good for the overall mobile Linux market, which has been criticized for being fragmented.

While the groups were working on slightly different projects, their missions were the same, said Bill Weinberg, general manager for LiPS. "The two organizations have been working to some degree in parallel with some of the same goals although with different means," he said. "It became more and more apparent that they should simply merge."

LiPS was working to create a standard that would define APIs (application programming interfaces) for developing applications to run on a mobile Linux kernel. By contrast, the LiMo Foundation is aiming to build a de facto standard software platform that handset makers can use to create Linux phones.

Speed to market may have been one reason that companies began to shift allegiances to LiMo. "The mobile landscape is shifting in a rapid manner and it's important that there be a common software platform that companies can implement and deploy," said Andrew Shikiar, director of global marketing for the LiMo Foundation. Some companies that switched allegiances from LiPS to LiMo earlier this year said they had become impatient with the pace of the standards process and decided to throw their weight behind what could become a de facto standard instead.

Weinberg and Shikiar both expect that the work LiPS has been conducting will continue within LiMo. Late last year, LiPS released the first version of its mobile Linux specification, including APIs for telephony, messaging, calendar, instant messaging and presence functions. "The specification itself lives on and will end up being hosted on the 'Net somewhere," Weinberg said.

Earlier this year several companies including Orange, France Telecom, Trolltech, Montavista and Purple Labs joined LiMo, after first being active in LiPS. Some of them were active in both groups while others said they'd given up their work with LiPS. At that time it became apparent that the momentum behind LiPS was slowing as LiMo's growth was picking up steam.

All of this activity, including other recent news not directly related to either group, points to continued interest in mobile Linux, leaders of the groups say. "From the LiMO perspective, this has been an interesting week," Shikiar said on Wednesday. "We've seen one emerging platform face some well publicized challenges, we've seen a leader in the mobile industry embrace openness and we're excited about tomorrow's announcement further signifying consolidation and unification behind LiMo as a meaningful Linux OS," he said.

Shikiar was referring to a report in The Wall Street Journal earlier this week that Google was running into trouble with its Android mobile phone platform and would probably delay its launch. In addition, on Tuesday a group of companies announced that they would work to make Symbian, the operating system with a 60 percent smart phone market share, open source.

Still, despite all the activity, actual growth in Linux mobile phones has stagnated. 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.

LiPS launched in late 2005 and LiMo in June of the following year.

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