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Motorola backs Linux as mobile mainstay

Linux to become dominant platform for Motorola phones.

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Motorola is planning to install Linux on 60 percent of its handsets within two years, as the handset maker bets big on the open source OS.

The long-awaited follow-up to its sleek Razr phone for GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks, now on sale in Asia, is based on Linux. The model, called Razr2 V8, will come to the US within two months as Motorola’s first Linux phone in the United States.

Cell phones traditionally have used proprietary operating systems, fragmented even among one manufacturer’s products. Motorola and other vendors have also opened up phone platforms through the Java and Brew software environments.

Linux will help to further expand the community of developers for software, which is becoming an increasingly important part of mobile phones, said Christy Wyatt, vice president of ecosystem and market development at Motorola. The company has shipped about nine million Linux handsets in the past four years and is now extending the OS down from smartphones to mid-range handsets such as the Razr2.

Motorola unveiled Motomagx, the latest version of its mobile Linux platform at LinuxWorld this week. Motomagx offers a new development option, called WebUI, to help bring Web 2.0 applications to phones. It lets developers who use tools such as AJAX (Asynchronous Java and XML) present their applications on a mobile phone through the WebKit open-source browser engine, Wyatt said. WebUI, Java and Linux itself will be the major development environments for Motorola’s Linux phones, she said.

One key to developing a large Linux developer community has been agreeing with other mobile companies on a single Linux platform, Wyatt said. In January, Motorola formed the LiMo Foundation along with NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Vodafone, Samsung Electronics, and Matsushita Electric Industrial (Panasonic).

The company’s Motodev Developer network helps software creators write applications for Linux phones. In the US, where mobile operators control software more tightly than in other parts of the world, Motorola helps developers get their applications on the carrier software and services “deck,” Wyatt said.

After Linux becomes the dominant platform for Motorola’s phones, the company still expects to sell Windows Mobile devices aimed primarily at enterprises, Symbian phones in Europe, and a number of low-end phones based on simpler, more closed platforms. But Linux is headed toward being one of three dominant platforms in a consolidating mobile-software world, along with Windows Mobile and Nokia’s Series 60, Wyatt said.

For the moment, phones based on the CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) family of technologies are left behind in Motorola’s Linux drive. Between CDMA and the Brew software environment frequently used on those phones, there is much porting and development work to be done, Wyatt said. But the company’s majority-Linux forecast assumes it will be able to bring out Linux-based CDMA phones, she said. There will be a non-Linux handset comparable to the Razr2 V8 for CDMA networks, she said.



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