RealTime IT News

LiPs For Mobile Linux

UPDATED: Mobile Linux growth is accelerating, but mobile Linux standards have not kept pace until now. The Linux Phone Standards (LiPS) Forum is finally ready to announce its 1.0 specification, or at least part of it.

The first version of LiPS 1.0 includes the LiPS Reference Model, Address Book and Voice Call Enabler, and User Interface Services (which is made up of widget sets, key navigation and text input method APIs). The second part of LiPS 1.0 is set for the end of 2007 and will include additional telephony, messaging, calendar, IM, and API specifications.

"There has been an interesting dynamic in the last 18 months where Linux has surged forward as a leading OS for mobile phones," Bill Weinberg, general manager of LiPS told internetnews.com.

"There has been a lot of debate about which framework, APIs and which interfaces should be there. So while Linux has gained ground as the underlying kernel and the basic framework for building applications there has been no consensus and in fact there has been a trend toward fragmentation."

The LiPS 1.0 specification release in part is an effort to help prevent fragmentation by providing standards. Weinberg explained that the first set of specifications included in LiPS 1.0 are focused on the most widely applicable parts of mobile phone development, the core enablers for building applications and core functionality that applies to the greatest set of phones.

LiPS got started in November 2005 as a consortium of operators, device makers, chipmakers and software specialists including PalmSource, France Telecom/Orange, FSM Labs, Huawei, Jaluna, ARM, Cellon, Esmertec, MIZI Research, MontaVista Software, Open-Plug and Trolltech.

Weinberg noted that, until recently, LiPS had few, if any, full-time employees and was worked on as a part-time operation for the companies involved.

Though Trolltech, the creator of the Qt open source GUI framework, is a member of LiPS, Qt is not part of the core LiPS 1.0 specification for the user interface. Instead, LiPS has gone the GNOME based GTK (GNOME Tool Kit) for its user interface specification. Trolltech's Qtopia, a mobile version of Qt, is being used by Motorola and others in their Linux-powered mobile phones.

Haavard Nord, co-founder of Trolltech, disagrees.

According to Nord, the GTK user interface profile that LiPS includes in its spec is a small piece of the overall mobile stack. Nord also noted that Trolltech's focus isn't on specifications but is rather on real product development.

"For us what we really focus on is the portability of device type and different OSes. We've seen a lot of specifications that have never resulted in any products; we'll see how LiPS goes in the end," Nord told internetnews.com.

Weinberg said there is a prevailing view that, while Qt is powerful and widely deployed, the licensing makes it unsuitable for certain people's view of how to build an open device.

Qt is dual-licensed under the GPL and a commercial Trolltech license for commercial use. Weinberg argued that Trolltech joined LiPS early on but they actually have not invested the time or energy to do the lobbying that they should be doing.

In the mobile OS battleground overall, the real fight appears to be a three-way battle between Microsoft, Linux and Symbian. Nokia, which uses Symbian extensively, has recently launched a program to help enable open source Linux applications to run on Symbian.

"Symbian is trying to find a way to deal with open source," Weinberg said. "They are the most inconvenient position of the three main horses in the mobile OS race and they have the least options for going end to end.

"So it would certainly behoove them to find way to interoperate more with open source because they can't leverage the enterprise ecosystem that Linux can or that Microsoft can."