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LiMo Foundation touts real mobile Linux

Declares war on mechanical humanoids

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Mobile World Congress The LiMo foundation delivered a clear snub to Google's Android this week as it announced 18 handsets running its version of Linux at Mobile World Congress this week.

The foundation declared itself to be "real technology for real phones that go to real customers" - the search giant's technology still being limited to prototypes and bare boards, despite the overwhelming publicity it's received.

With Orange and Access now signed up to LiMo, the former as a retrospective-founder member, the foundation has significant industry backing. But it also has pretty relaxed certification of devices and its claims to be "open source" do not stand up to the slightest scrutiny.

The source code to LiMo is shared, but only within the membership of the LiMo foundation, and while the APIs for developing LiMo applications are publicly available it isn't possible to deploy applications on the current version of the platform: the security framework needed to make that happen is going to come with version 2, apparently.

Also with version 2 will come a Java Virtual Machine, though several of the 15 handsets being launched have implemented other JVMs as a stop-gap measure (three of the new handsets are reference designs, so don't really count as "real").

The LiMo foundation talks about a revolution in new applications coming to handsets. It even wheeled out the father of mobiles Martin Cooper to wax lyrical about the new revolution that LiMo will enable - comparable to mobile telephony itself, in his opinion. Except this generation of devices provides no such capability.

LiMo is free, once you've paid your foundation membership, but the OS isn't a big component in overall handset costs these days, so any advantage from using LiMo is firmly with the handset manufacturer rather than the developer or end-user, who gains nothing from using an "open" platform.

Google's Android is open, or at least it will be once it's available. Its security will be based on popping up dialogs asking the user if it's OK to do things: a model which has failed so spectacularly on desktop computers as users prove again and again how unqualified they are to make such decisions.

Meanwhile, Symbian and Windows Mobile handsets continue to run innovative applications developed by third parties without requiring approval from operators or manufacturers: in exactly the kind of way that Google and LiMo claim they're trying to foster.

The existing generation of smartphones might not run rebel code, but they are real platforms running on real handsets and used by real users. ®

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