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Vodafone picks a Linux-phone

LiMO lives and Symbian scowls

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The LiMO Foundation is celebrating Vodafone's endorsement with two handsets from Samsung, but the news that the Linux-based alternative isn't dead won't be received well over at Symbian.

The LiMO Foundation reckons to have already launched 42 handsets using its platform, but these are closed affairs only really of interest to network operators and handset manufacturers, with Release two (R2) LiMO opens up to BONDI and Vodafone's 360 platform, not to mention getting recognition in a market where Symbian really ought to be a shoo-in.

Vodafone has been a member of LiMO since it started, but that's not the same as actually selling handsets based on the platform which is what Vodafone will now be doing. Samsung too has been paying lip service to the other Linux-based option, while releasing Android, Symbian and Windows Mobile handsets which will now be joined by at least two using LiMO.

Vodafone is betting a lot on the 360 service, and clearly wanted branded handsets to go with it. Samsung has been churning out good handsets recently and is still willing to share branding in a way that others won't any more, so Samsung makes a sensible choice of manufacturer; but Vodafone could still have gone with one of the other operating systems around today.

But they wouldn't - Android is owned by Google, and while the Android Marketplace isn't exclusive it is recognised and would be hard to compete with. The same thing applies to Windows Mobile: operators can sell their own applications and services, but only in competition with Microsoft. That should leave Vodafone knocking on Symbian's door - the operator has already developed a Symbian client for its '360 service, so surely it would make sense to use the newly-open Symbian for handsets locked into the Vodafone 360 service?

Except that such handsets wouldn't be locked in at all: they would be open to other client applications such as SPB's excellent Mobile Shell or Handango's InHand application-downloading client, while going with LiMO keeps control firmly in the hands of the issuing operator: Vodafone.

LiMO also supports BONDI; the industry's standard AJAX extensions to allow persistence and interaction with local applications, that should allow rapid creation of the plethora of widgets and eye-candy necessary for a modern smartphone, but developers who want to make use of the extensions will have to go knocking on Vodafone's door for approval just as iPhone developers remain beholden to Apple.

LiMO makes great play of offering a "common vision" by bringing companies together, but it's a vision that puts the network operators back in the driving seat - Vodafone is the first, but every other operator will be crossing their fingers and hoping that the world's biggest can gain control of its customers before it's too late. ®

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