Despite their common Linux underpinnings, need to satisfy vendors' budgets, and impress consumers, the two sides are approaching wireless apps very differently.

Michael Singer, Contributor

August 5, 2008

3 Min Read

Google on Tuesday said its Android mobile operating system is not planning to join a growing consortium of mobile Linux companies even though the two sides have similar foundations and goals of besting Apple's iPhone.

Eric Chu, a group marketing manager with Google's Android group, downplayed any talk that his company would be lending its name to the Linux Mobile Foundation -- or LiMo -- in an attempt to standardize mobile middleware. LiMo said on Monday that it has signed 11 new member companies in recent weeks and said that the number of mobile devices running the LiMo OS now totals 21.

"Unification for the sake of unification is not the path we decided to go down," Chu said during a panel discussion of the mobile marketplace at the LinuxWorld conference in San Francisco. "In the end, what matters most is what consumers are looking for. But having too many people on the design phase, especially early on, would have hurt the project. You could have three different user interfaces and a couple of application layers. That doesn't make sense."

So why is Google standing apart from the crowd? In a word: iPhone.

"A lot has happened in the last 12 months to push us in this direction," Chu told InformationWeek after the panel discussion. "From our perspective, creating a platform in a mobile space is not like building for the PC. With mobile, you are fighting for every spare 500 kilobytes you can find. We know because we are building handsets right now. So instead of adding in compatibility for everything, we think it is important to clarify for developers the best possible direction and make it open source so it is available to more people."

Google is currently testing its Android software for release under the Apache free-software and open source license later this year. Chu said the core operating system was about 80% complete and it expects handsets from its hardware partners to debut about the same time.

Android is the mobile software stack being developed by Google and the Open Handset Alliance, a competing group in some respects to LiMo, even though there is some membership crossover. LiMo's other designation is that it only moderates what kinds of mobile middleware has its stamp of approval, while Android represents the entire stack like Microsoft's Windows Mobile or Nokia's Symbian OS.

Still, a better relationship with LiMo (founded by Motorola, NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic Mobile Communications, Samsung Electronics, and Vodafone) might provide for some diversity, which panelists from TrollTech, Qualcomm, and Purple Labs agreed.

"To have some type of coalescence is necessary, whether the application is a game or interacting with the cloud," said Sy Choudhury, staff product manager of OS technologies with Qualcomm. "We also work with Microsoft and Symbian and our interaction with other groups is helping with standardization in the industry."

Nokia's plan to turn the Symbian mobile operating system over to the open source community is sure to impact businesses that want to push more apps onto smartphones. InformationWeek's independent report on the issue is available as a download here (registration required).

Fortunately, mobile Linux companies already have the basics down. The Linux Kernel 2.6 is the common operating system with Gstreamer for multimedia, and GTK for the user interface. The panel agreed that solidifying the basics and focusing on mobile middleware applications has certainly cleaned up the playing field.

"We have the opportunity to experiment that we didn't have before," said Morgan Gillis, Executive Director, LiMo Foundation. "From two or three years ago, we recognized the need to create a government structure and an open platform that everyone can build on with no barriers when it comes to environment."

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