Meta Group said that within five years a quarter of all mobile phones sold will be Linux-based smartphones, increasing from almost zero at present.
Initial adoption will be at the low end of the market, with Linux moving to "more capable" smartphones after that, said Meta. As a result, firms will be able to buy cheaper smartphones and develop their applications more cost-effectively.
Jack Gold, vice-president at Meta Group, said, "We expect Linux to take a significant share of the mobile phone OS market in the next five years."
PalmSource, which produces the Palm OS, has said it will build the Palm environment on top of a Linux platform. Meta also expects Research in Motion to provide a full Blackberry client for deployment on Linux-based devices within the next two years.
Gold said manufacturers are starting to divide the operating system from the user interface. For example, Nokia is making its Series 60 and Series 90 platforms available on the Symbian OS, where the user interface will be isolated from the embedded OS.
This will mean mobile developers can have a common application development platform, making applications more portable. "It will be possible to come closer to 'write once' for the user interface and not have to deal with custom versions for each device," said Gold.
RIM has already moved to separate the user interface from the OS by licensing clients to PalmSource and Nokia, among others. Microsoft will be the only long-term manufacturer to retain an integrated user interface/OS with Windows Mobile, and it has no plans to divide them.
"Enterprises should select a particular platform and not a specific device for long-term strategic deployments," Gold said.
"By selecting a platform such as Palm, Nokia Series 60/90 or Windows Mobile, firms can build applications that work on almost any device supporting that platform, and let the user interface interact with the underlying OS to secure operability."
Symbian is the most popular smartphone operating system, followed by Palm and Windows.