Neither Nokia nor MS – Motorola makes Linux play

Former behemoth tries third force option

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Motorola, which is widely-suspected of membership of the Symbian consortium, this week plumped for a Linux-Java combo for its new handset, and said there would be a lot more where that came from. The A760, which has colour screen, camera, video and MP3 player, Bluetooth and PDA functionality, will ship in Asia later this year, then be rolled out to Europe and the US.

The timing of the rollout will however be key, because although the A760 looks attractive right now, Nokia and Sony-Ericsson already have tough competitors shipping, and undoubtedly tougher ones still in the works.

Motorola's long-term identity crisis (in phones and much else) has been a source of some wry amusement round these parts, but this time the company might just be making a good call. It has always been the sulky and disaffected one in Symbian, with good reason; Symbian is working handsomely for Nokia, Nokia's Series 60 has been doing handsomely for Nokia, poor, wounded Motorola surely could not bear the humiliation of tagging along behind Nokia with the rest of them.

There is a strange absence of compelling Motorola Symbian devices that actually shipped, and one wonders (as we're sure Motorola often does) what the blazes Motorola is doing in Symbian anyway. And although there are still noises of Motorola Symbian devices in development, given the track record it's reasonable to wonder if we'll ever actually see them.

And do we hear sighs of relief from Symbian Central? After all, the Linux move now makes it pretty unlikely that this year's ambush at 3GSM next week will be Motorola-Microsoft.

With the A760 Motorola is using Montavista's Linux for mobile phones, rather than something home-grown, so it will be able to fast-track development of other Linux handsets, and these will have plenty of application support via Java. There's obviously a danger that a Linux-based Motorola line won't have much unique to it, if everybody else piles in, but the plan is surely to seize a lead then keep it. And perhaps also to do a Microsoft and try to licence a Linux-Java platform reference design.

so, at the eleventh hour, Motorola seems to be making a 'third force' play. It's not with Microsoft, not with Nokia, and if it's cute and quick, it has a shot at re-establishing itself as a leader. A long shot, maybe, but what's the alternative? ®

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