Mobile Linux Looks To Grow
By Carlo Longino, Tue May 04 16:45:00 GMT 2004

While Linux hasn't yet hit the big time in the mobile space, there's still interest in using the open-source OS in handsets.

There have been a few Linux-based handsets released in Asia from Motorola and Samsung -- and that's about it. But NTT DoCoMo said Linux was its preferred 3G platform, and Motorola's going to release the first Linux phone in the US later this year.

Some amount of momentum, no matter how small, is building behind the OS as handset makers look for powerful software that's not tied to a company like Nokia or Microsoft. But another attraction for Linux is its huge community of developers, and vendors see this as a way to reduce the burden of developing and supporting the software, since they can integrate existing open-source work to support new features, rather than developing everything themselves.

Certainly Linux has credibility because of its wide adoption in the server and enterprise market, but it's unclear just how its success in those spaces will translate to mobile phones and their specialized needs. A huge developer base doesn't always ensure success -- one of the benefits of Java on mobile devices was supposed to be the ability of a huge existing pool of developers to code for handsets. While some Java software (such as games) has found success, mobile Java development is still limited to a comparatively small group of specialized programmers.

But perhaps the real stumbling block to Linux on phones is that most Linux developers -- like most Java developers -- don't make consumer applications. Linux, and applications written for it, aren't known for their usability to the average consumer, and that's something that the Linux community as a whole doesn't seem to really care about. For Linux to be a success on mobile devices, phone makers can't totally rely on the open-source community and focus on Linux's power at the expense of usability.