New Linux phone encourages application development

First International Computer introduces a mobile phone based on Linux

Taiwanese electronics company First International Computer (FIC) hopes to replicate the open nature of the PC in mobile phones with the debut of a smartphone running an open Linux-based mobile software platform developed by one of its product managers.

FIC's Neo1973 smartphone, introduced Tuesday and expected to go on sale in January, runs on OpenMoko, a new open-source mobile phone software platform aimed at spurring mobile application development.

OpenMoko comes with a software development kit and libraries designed to make it easier for developers to build new applications for the phones. OpenMoko also includes a software manager so that users can easily add, remove and update applications.

Sean Moss-Multz, OpenMoko's developer and a product manager at FIC, plans to facilitate the sharing of the applications that users create through community and commercial resources.

OpenMoko is based on the OpenEmbedded project, a development environment to enable applications to work across various Linux embedded systems giving users access to many existing open-source applications.

The phone will operate on GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks in most regions of the world and will also include GPS (Global Positioning System) technology for location and navigation services. It will also come with push e-mail and contact and calendar synchronization from Funambol Inc.

Moss-Multz developed the platform out of frustration with the closed environment of mobile phones. His idea was to create an attractive mobile phone running on open-source software and target it to "everyone who loves to tinker with electronics," according to a presentation he wrote that is posted on the OpenMoko Web site. A software development kit and support capabilities will help such enthusiasts develop a broad range of applications that then might become interesting to a wider audience of people who may not have the technical know-how to build their own applications.

Moss-Multz won't be the first to attempt to open up the mobile phone industry. Smartphone operating systems like Symbian and Windows Mobile also allow phone users to download applications and their creators support and encourage a community of developers. But despite running on Symbian, phones from different manufacturers or even different models from the same manufacturer might not automatically run the same application. That means that application developers often have to tweak their products many times to run on all the different phones in the market.

The push to use Linux on mobile phones is gaining momentum but it too is fragmented. Several groups including the Mobile Linux Initiative, the Linux Phone Standards Forum and others have popped up recently with plans to build a common mobile Linux kernel and APIs (application programming interfaces) in bids to unify the mobile Linux community.

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