Linux heading for mobile phones

The Linux operating system has made the jump from computer servers to handheld computers, digital video recorders and...

The Linux operating system has made the jump from computer servers to handheld computers, digital video recorders and wristwatches and soon may find its way into your mobile phone.

NEC is working on the development of Linux-based cell phones with MontaVista Software, which it is in talks with other major cellular handset makers on similar projects.

NEC is looking to use the operating system in handsets for global markets, but a spokesperson said the company is still investigating the use of Linux and has not yet begun designing its first handset based on the operating system.

NEC is not the only company interested in using MontaVista's embedded Linux in a cellular telephone, said Scott Hedrick, MontaVista's senior product marketing manager for consumer electronics.

"We have a couple of customers that are actively developing GPRS phones for the Asian market, which they plan on shipping this year, as well as 3G phone projects for Japan," he said. "We are also talking to all the right mobile phone companies in Europe and see some very strong interest."

"A couple of our customers are developing more PDA-like phones with touchscreens but a lot of our customers are looking at developing medium-to-high end phones.

The arrival of Linux will intensify competition in an already competitive sector. PalmSource has already scored some goals with several companies offering handsets based on its software. A number of companies are offering phones based on either of Microsoft's offerings for handsets: Windows Powered Smartphone for phones with limited PDA (personal digital assistant) functionality and Pocket PC Phone Edition for devices that are more like traditional PDAs.

There is also the Symbian operating system and it is this one that might be the initial loser should Linux gain a foothold in the cellular market, said Hedrick, who claimed most major handset makers are using Symbian as more of a tactic to counter Microsoft than as a strategy for advanced handsets.

At present, the Symbian operating system is licensed by Nokia, Motorola, Samsung Siemens and Sony Ericsson.

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