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Next Up For Cell Phones: More Business Features And Linux

Nokia has business users in mind, and PalmSource is moving to Linux.

Makers of cell phones and PDAs are increasing their focus on what more they think business users want from their products and services.

Nokia Corp. last week agreed to acquire Intellisync Corp., a provider of messaging software for wireless devices, because of its expertise in E-mail, device management, synchronizing devices with other systems, and support for multiple operating-system platforms. Nokia wants to move away from being perceived as just a device maker.

The acquisition will help the company reach its goal of providing products and services that let mobile business users connect to any data source or application, regardless of which companies developed the devices and networks they're using, says Dave Grannan, general manager of mobility solutions in Nokia's Enterprise Solutions group. He wouldn't provide specifics on planned products, but the general approach could strike a positive note with IT departments that increasingly have to support a variety of mobile devices running disparate operating systems.

New Direction For Palm OS

Also last week, Access Co. Ltd. of Japan, which makes the NetFront Internet browser for mobile devices, acquired Palm OS maker PalmSource Inc. Like Nokia, Access wants to increase options and availability of services to mobile-device users. What partly attracted Access is PalmSource's plan to make a version of the Palm OS based on Linux; PalmSource says it might run a Linux version of NetFront on top of it.

The Palm OS has faced mounting competition from Symbian OS and Windows Mobile, and just last month hardware manufacturer Palm Inc. said it would begin offering Windows Mobile on its devices. PalmSource apparently expects that a move to Linux will breathe life into its product, by making it easier for handset makers to create the types of features users want and get them out more quickly, such as an ability to access business applications. Think of a salesperson using a cell phone to access customer files on customer-relationship-management software residing on a server, for example. "The key benefit for end users with Linux is faster time to market," says Didier Diaz, VP of product marketing for PalmSource.

Linux will play a bigger role in business-class mobile devices, predicts Mark Lowenstein, managing director at consulting firm Mobile Ecosystem. "Businesses will have greater control over what's on the phone," he says. Research firm IDC forecasts Linux's market share on mobile devices to go from 11.3% last year to 17% by 2009.

PalmSource last week joined with France Telecom, Linux software vendor MontaVista Software, and other vendors to create the Linux Phone Standards Forum, or LiPS, to develop standards and interoperability testing for the Linux mobile platform. "Most of the end users don't really care which [operating system] or technical solution is used in their terminal," says Michel Gien, VP of the executive committee for LiPS. "What they want is a reliable, easy-to-use, interoperable terminal supporting a rich choice of applications and services, for the best price."

But do proprietary mobile operating systems have an edge? Peter Bancroft, VP of communications at Symbian Ltd., says the Symbian OS took lots of time and money to develop and can handle complex multimedia content, while those developing operating systems with the Linux kernel will need to start from scratch.

Mobile Linux
Among the goals of the newly formed
Linux Phone Standards Forum:

  • Ensuring a viable business model for device and telecom vendors

  • Communicating a vision for unified Linux telephony to the telecom industry and the broader market

  • Guaranteeing that mobile Linux will evolve to support the features and performance required by telephony users

  • Making Linux applicable for the mass market

  • Maximizing interoperability among devices

  • Guaranteeing flexibility and security

  • Defining certification process to ensure compliance of Linux devices
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