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Motorola to Sell Linux-Java Handset

Motorola is coming out with a new color-screen handset that will include the Linux operating system and Sun's Java software.

The new Motorola A760 handset will come out in Asia first, and elsewhere around the world, thereafter. The phone will contain a built-in camera, MP3 and video players, and may hit the market some time in the third quarter.

The move by Motorola is being seen as a threat to Microsoft's next generation wireless device aspirations, and potentially a blow to Symbian. Motorola is a member of the Symbian consortium to the tune of 20 percent, but this move is a snub to Symbian, and its biggest proponent: Nokia.

Motorola has said it's going with Linux, but appears to be amenable to partnerships with Symbian, Palm, Microsoft and other vendors for the phone's primary software layer. Motorola said its platform will be "capable of supporting leading open operating systems such as eLinux, Symbian OS, Microsoft Windows CE, and PalmOS."

Nevertheless, an intense competition is unfolding for the software inside the next generation of wireless handsets. That battle is going to play itself out in Asia and parts of Europe later this year, before reaching the U.S. in late 2003, or more likely in 2004.

Microsoft has already cinched a deal with France Telecom's Orange, and has had a new handset out for a few months in Europe. Motorola's pact with Linux and Sun's Java clearly shows a new rivalry is emerging between Motorola, Nokia and other device makers, who will try to differentiate in terms of functionality and price.

Handset makers like Motorola, Nokia and several other manufacturers, including Samsung, are in a race to bring a range of new souped-up phones with high-speed data features. Part of Motorola's strategy is to utilize the Linux operating system, and in the process, bring new products to market that are less expensive for it to manufacture.

By using Linux, Motorola expects to lower licensing costs, which in turn, will improve its margins on the sale of each handset. Motorola also said it likes the speed of Linux and the open source nature of the programming modules.

From its press release it is clear that Motorola will be going with Linux both with this new high-end phone, and some of its lower-end models, as well. What remains to be seen is whether other wireless handset manufacturers will adopt Linux, or if Microsoft, Palmsource or Symbian software will win out with carriers around the world.

IDC says that by 2006 Symbian will increase its market share in the next generation wireless phones, followed by Microsoft, Palmsouce and Linux. But as the battle is just starting, it is far from clear, which system will win out.

In addition to the new Motorola phone running Linux, it will also run the Java programming language, which is agnostic to processor and operating system differences. Motorola is working to define the Java specifications for advanced wireless handsets and other portable computing and communications devices. Motorola has rallied Nokia, Vodafone, Samsung, NTT DoCoMo and Symbian to agree on wireless Java standards, indicating strong support for Sun's move into the wireless software market.

Motorola is hoping that the tandem of Linux and Java will empower applications developers to create new business applications, games and other programs for this new generation of devices.

Motorola will use MontaVista Software's version of Linux for cell phones, and it is not clear if Red Hat will compete for future deals. MontaVista generates revenues by selling Linux programming tool, and because it doesn't charge royalties, it could provide other wireless manufacturers a low-cost software solution. Microsoft will make a strong case that its operating system, programming tool and more integrated software package will be a key part of its .Net mobile strategy. Microsoft's mobile software include Pocket PC Phone Edition and .Net Compact Framework, with the strategy that developers will play a key role in driving applications for the new generation of wireless devices.

In the coming months, other wireless handset manufacturers are expected to weigh-in on whether they will go with Linux, or competing operating systems from Microsoft, Symbian and Palmsource. NEC is the only wireless device manufacturer to come out in support of the Linux operating system.

The Motorola A760 not only is a wireless phone with personal digital assistant (PDA) features, but also has a digital camera, video player, MP3 player, speakerphone, advanced messaging, instant Internet access and Bluetooth wireless technology.

On Thursday, Motorola also said it is releasing a 2.5G reference design for OEM's to be able to quickly design concepts for the GSM/GPRS platform. The i.Smart smartphone reference design "supports open operating systems and offers fully integrated hardware, software and support services allowing manufacturers to concentrate on production differentiation and accelerate time-to-market."

The reference design is based on Motorola's i.250 Innovative Convergence Platform and the i.MX media extension applications processor.