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1/9/2007
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Startup Promises First Linux Smartphone Based On Open Standards

OpenMoko next month plans to start selling an open source mobile platform and the Neo1973 smartphone developed in partnership with First International Computer.

OpenMoko, a Taiwanese startup that develops mobile hardware and software, next month plans to start selling what it claims to be the first Linux smartphone based completely on open standards.

OpenMoko first unveiled its open-source mobile communications platform and the Neo1973 smartphone in partnership with First International Computer, a manufacturer of motherboards and notebook, PC, and PDA peripherals, in November. All parts of the platform are open sourced, including the user interface layer. "In the Linux world, nobody has created an integrated software stack for mobile phones, but that's what we did," says Sean Moss-Pultz, an FIC product development manager.

Access, a Japanese mobile software company that acquired PalmSource—the maker of the Palm OS—also is planning to introduce its commercial-grade Linux OS for smartphones in the first half of this year. But parts of it, including the user interface, are proprietary and closed to developers, says Moss-Pultz.

Mobile Linux is a popular mobile platform around the world because it offers lower development costs to smartphone makers and provides a richer mobile ecosystem of devices and applications. But there isn't a standard mobile Linux operating system today and the number of applications available on Linux phones is limited. OpenMoko says its platform comes with 3,000 out-of-the-box apps. The company also offers common storage models and libraries for developers so they can create a wide range of mobile apps.

Neo1973 is being showcased at an exclusive press event at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.

The round smartphone is feature-packed. It charges when connected to a PC via a USB port and supports USB network emulation for routing a connected PC to the Internet via a cellular network. Neo1973 has 128 Mbytes of RAM, a 64-Mbyte MicroSD card, a touch screen, and GPS capability.

For the first six months, Neo1973 initially will be sold directly by FIC for $350. The phone requires a GSM/GPRS network to work, which means U.S. customers would need to have a Cingular or a T-Mobile subscription. The phone will be sold directly from carriers in the third or fourth quarter of this year.

Several technology vendors are in a race to launch a mobile Linux platform that will be commonly used and accepted around the world. OpenMoko is just one of the many players at this point.

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