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Panasonic, NEC Tap Linux for Mobile Phones

Panasonic and NEC unveiled nine new cell phone models on Tuesday that run the open-source LiMo operating system, wireless Linux group LiMo said.

The focus of the cell phone market has been shifting to software development since Google and Apple entered the mobile market in the past two years, with phone vendors and operators increasingly looking for open source alternatives such as LiMo to cut costs.

The market for software platforms on cell phones is led by Nokia's Symbian operating system, but it has lost much ground over the last year to Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) and BlackBerry maker Research in Motion.

Computer operating system Linux has had little success with cell phones so far, but its role is increasing with the LiMo platform and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) is using Linux for its Android platform.

Linux is the most popular type of free or so-called open source computer operating system available to the public to be used, revised and shared. Linux suppliers earn money selling improvements and technical services and Linux competes directly with Microsoft, which charges for its Windows software and opposes freely sharing its code.

LiMo also said Japanese mobile carrier KDDI Corp and touchscreen company Immersion had joined the not-for-profit foundation.

But LiMo has been missing support from the largest cellphone vendors. So far, smaller phone makers NEC, Panasonic and Motorola have unveiled in total 42 phones using its software. At the same time, all the top handset vendors, except Nokia, have promised to produce phone models running Android software.

The world's second- and third-largest cell phone vendors, Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics, are members of LiMo, but have not unveiled commercial models.

LiMo hopes to benefit from its focus on giving greater say over software development to telecommunications operators. Its key members -- Vodafone, France Telecom's Orange, Japan's NTT DoCoMo, South Korea's SK Telecom, Telefonica and U.S. operator Verizon Wireless, a venture between Verizon Communications and Vodafone -- have pledged to introduce LiMo phones in 2009.