Linux plays big at Mobile World Congress (MWC)

As expected, mobile software has been the big theme of the show.

We arrived at the show having had Google announce its Android platform just a couple of months ago. While undoubtedly adding credibility to the concept of mobile Linux, many in the industry groaned at the prospect of yet another flavour of mobile Linux. Along comes another Linux based stack offering no level of compatibility with existing or forthcoming Linux platforms.

While fragmentation remains a big hurdle, the LiMo Foundation has stood good to its word and is striving to reach its goal of a common, open Linux based platform. LiMo now has significant industry support from those corners of the industry which are set to drive the Linux agenda over the coming years (with the major and obvious exception of Google). Although application compatibility is still a way off on LiMo, the involvement of Access will add further momentum.

Similarly, with Orange and Softbank joining giant operators such as Vodafone and NTT DoCoMo, it’s clear there is a chance commercial success. Linux represents a big opportunity for the operators to have a leading role in helping to build a platform from the ground up. They also hope it will help the lower cost, Asian vendors build out devices capable of keeping the top 5 handset makers and leading software platform (Symbian / S60 (Nokia) and Windows Mobile (Microsoft)) in check.

In fact it’s perhaps surprising that established vendors such as Samsung and Motorola have been so happy to contribute IP to open source mobile Linux given the ‘helping hand’ they are undoubtedly providing the competition with this support.

While we expected to see LiMo handsets in 2008, the number and variety of products announced at MWC is nothing short of staggering. That said, how can legacy Motorola products truly conform to LiMo?, Although devices from Samsung, LG and NEC will finally see mobile Linux move from a concept to a reality interoperability is a long way off.

The interesting question now is Google’s response. With such a large proportion of the industry now involved in or supporting LiMo, the foundation has arguably realised its goal of becoming a quasi industry standard. With commercial platforms such as the Access Linux Platform embracing LiMo, Google could find itself under increasing pressure to conform. If Google is to continue to uphold Android’s claim of being ‘an open platform’, conformity with the LiMo specification may become inevitable. Failure to do so could well see Android lose momentum among operators and manufacturers before it’s had the chance to get off the ground.