Orange first mobile giant off the mark with Linux program

Leapfrogs ahead with ALP

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Comment Ever since NTT DoCoMo and Vodafone lent their support to Motorola and Samsung to create an open Linux handset architecture, the open source platform has gained new credibility as the likely leading operating system for smartphones in the next generation.

For the first time, Linux seemed to be gaining not just the political positioning, but the technical resources and unity, to be adequate in fighting off Microsoft Windows Mobile and possibly sidelining Nokia-backed Symbian.

But Orange has leapfrogged those giants, becoming the first tier one mobile carrier to launch a Linux initiative, as opposed to supporting some isolated handsets.

It is focusing its efforts not on the existing major mobile variants - notably MontaVista - but on the emerging Access Linux Platform, which incorporates the former Palm user interface.

Orange has approved the Access Linux Platform (ALP) and will use the Japanese firm's product in conjunction with its own Orange Application Package to offer device manufacturers a turnkey mobile Linux platform. Like the Vodafone-DoCoMo initiative, this shows the carriers taking the initiative in driving new handset functionality, and working to reduce their costs and time to market by encouraging their suppliers to use standardized building blocks.

Yves Maitre, vice president of devices at Orange, said: "This is part of our wider Signature Devices strategy, which delivers a consistent customer experience across a variety of devices and applications and.will enable us to foster the growth of the mobile Linux market."

This is a major coup for Access, which acquired the former software arm of Palm, Palmsource, in order to combine the benefits of an open source OS and a user interface that has been well liked by operators and high end users.

In doing so, it preserved many of the key Palm software technologies - even as the outlook for the PalmOS itself looked increasingly bleak, with Palm itself now supporting Windows Mobile too - and gave mobile Linux what it most badly needed, an acceptable interface.

PalmSource will, over time, entirely replace the proprietary kernel in its Cobalt 6.1 PalmOS handset operating system with Linux. It will provide a future for the Palm community, even if Palm itself, the device making element of the company, which remains independent, shifts entirely to Windows.

"As the stewards of PalmOS, we have included in ALP a compatibility engine (GHost) that provides forward compatibility for the 25,000 strong PalmOS application titles base - one of the largest in the mobile content and services market," said the Japanese company.

This is the first mainstream deployment of the combined Access/Palmsource technology and so will be an interesting proving ground for other operators as well as for developers.

Orange has built something of a reputation for gaining differentiation by supporting new operating systems at an early stage - it gave Windows Mobile its first major dose of credibility a few years ago when it supported it ahead of other tier one carriers.

Access and its PalmSource subsidiary have also launched the Access Developer Network, an online resource designed to accelerate the creation, distribution and usage of mobile Linux applications as well as to extend the existing PalmSource developer community.

Access hopes this will kick off the formation of a Mobile Linux ecosystem - in the early days of Palm, the strong support of a well supported developer community and partner ecosystem was critical to the company's dominance of the first generation PDA/smartphone sector.

Also in the field of mobile Linux, Trolltech has launched an open mobile device for application developers. Greenphone enables developers to create, modify and test Linux-based applications on a working GSM/GPRS device, aiming to speed time to market. Greenphone will be offered as part of a complete software development kit and includes Trolltech's Qtopia Phone Edition, an application platform and user interface for Linux-based mobile phones.

Copyright © 2006, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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