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Phone vendors agree to agree on Linux API

Ganging up on Nokia, MS

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An alliance of handset vendors wants to create a common API for Linux phones. It's mostly a Japanese-flavored crew, dominated by NTT DoCoMo and its key suppliers NEC, Panasonic and the Korean giant Samsung. But Motorola, whose official phone strategy appears to be "we'll try anything", is also one of the founding five.

The means are woolly - but the principal objective will have reverberations in both Tampere and Seattle.

It's the "joint development and marketing of an API specification, architecture, supporting source code-based reference implementation components and tools, the foundation intends to leverage the benefits of community-based and proprietary development."

A common Linux API for phones has been conspicuous by its absence - but the history of "unified Unixes" goes back almost 20 inglorious years. Does this stand a better chance?

Motorola has been throwing Linux phones at the market for some time, without seeing many stick - but there are signs that's beginning to change. Maybe it's a sign of the times that Reg favorite Juha Christensen, who was prominent in the founding of the Symbian consortium, and then was smuggled to Seattle in an Entebbe-style raid, has now wound up at Trolltech. Which has high hopes for Linux capturing the mid range market.

Absent from the founding group are the market leader, Nokia, and Sony Ericsson. Both vendors, and in particular Nokia, have invested heavily in Symbian system software and middleware, and have declined to experiment with Microsoft or Linux based devices. But the more telling story is that they've also had to invest more than they can have expected to in their legacy, "modem phones" than they can have expected to when the Smartphone Wars began in earnest, in 1998. These are handsets designed to run a phone stack efficiently, with time slicing for crude applications. However, with Symbian's introduction of a real-time kernel, which permits manufacturers to build cheaper, single chip or single core phones, the distinction between high-end and mid-range is dissolving rapidly.

Also missing is PalmSource, now owned by Japanese browser vendor Access. PalmSource is hoping to woo its major Western licensee Palm over to its own Linux platform. It has a lot of catching up to do.

So perhaps the Phone Wars have only really begun. Not again? ®

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