From LiPS to LiMo: The Mobile Linux Divide?

While backers of mobile Linux are all trying to increase Linux adoption, the
question for vendors has been which mobile Linux effort they should back
among the crowd of mobile Linux organizations.

In the case of Trolltech, maker of the popular Qtopia mobile Linux platform,
they’ve chosen to move from the LiPS (The
Linux Phone Standards) effort to the Motorola backed LiMo Foundation effort.
The Trolltech move could be a sign of consolidation within the mobile Linux
market or it could be a sign the multi-billion dollar mobile Linux market
will remain fragmented.

Benoit Schillings, Trolltech CTO told InternetNews.com that his
company did not renew its membership within LiPS because in his opinion LiMo
is now superseding what LiPS is trying to do.

The LiMo Foundation was launched back in January of 2007 with Motorola, NEC,
NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic Mobile Communications, Samsung Electronics, and
Vodafone. Today they added Trolltech Acrodea, ETRI, Huawei and Purple Labs s
members.

While Trolltech’s Schillings noted there is some overlap in the membership
of LiPS and LiMo, he expects that the learning’s from LiPS will eventually be
part of LiMo. Overall, Schillings agreed that there are a lot of different
mobile Linux groups today, though in his view there is currently a degree of
consolidation taking place.

“It was tempting for a number of organizations to get into mobile Linux and
try and start a standard platform initiative but in the end it is much more
work than most anybody envisioned,” Schillings said. “It’s easy to start but
hard to finish.”

Schillings argued that if all a Mobile Linux standards group does is focus
on the framework, then they’re missing something. In his view that’s where he
sees LiMo’s difference – in that they understand what operators want.

There is also an issue on what part of the broader mobile Linux ecosystem
will be part of a mobile Linux standards effort. Trolltech’s flagship
product is the Linux GUI technology Qt and its
mobile companion Qtopia which compete against GTK.

The LiPS Foundation and
Trolltech disagreed about which to use, with LiPS opting for GTK as part of
the LiPS 1.0 specification issued in June of 2007. Schillings argued that
the GTK versus Qt argument is only a point of detail.

In fact the GTK versus Qt argument extends beyond the mobile handset space
and has been the subject for what Schillings referred to as a ‘religious
issue’ for the desktop as well. The popular GNOME Linux desktop GUI uses GTK
while KDE uses Qt. In his view mobile Linux isn’t about that argument.

“Talking about how pixels can show up on the screen may be interesting but
it something that has been quite well understood for the last 10 years,”
Schillings argued. “How we allow an operator to experiment with new services
or customize the user experience these are the interesting issues that LiMO
can address.”

Schillings also argued that the Google Android effort and the associated Open
Handset Alliance
is not necessarily a competitive approach to what LiMo
is doing. Rather in his view he sees OHA as just another approach to move
the industry forward.

When it comes to LiPS versus LiMo, the answer is similar in the view of
Morgan Gillis’ Executive Director of the LiMo Foundation. Gillis noted that
LiPS and LiMo have similar aims in terms of the unification of mobile Linux.

“However, LiMo is following a code-centric approach – in other words
producing a real software platform for the whole industry to use,” Gillis
told InternetNews.com. “Whereas LiPS is producing documented
standards in the manner of a traditional standards body.”

Bill Weinberg, general manager of LiPS, agreed that LiPS is a different
approach to promoting mobile Linux. Weinberg told InternetNews.com
that the LiPS approach to developing a standard is to have companies work
toward complying with specifications and is not about building a complete
application stack. The LiPS standard will end up having multiple
implementations that are compliant.

Weinberg argued that LiMo, rather than trying to create an open standard, is
trying to create only one standard implementation.

“They are taking chunks of open source and requesting contributions and then
they will integrate it into a platform which could then be used to produce
handsets,” Weinberg said.

The big issue for mobile Linux adoption according to Weinberg really is all
about defining what is mobile Linux.

“The challenge for Linux in mobile is not adoption at the base sense since
lots of vendors have been deploying with it,” Weinberg commented. “But so
far there has not been a platform that promotes interoperability.”

Weinberg explained that for ISVs today, they have the challenge of deciding
how many different platforms to support. Traditionally, one of the common
denominators has been Java which itself has multiple versions in use by
operators and handset vendor. For Linux there may be a dozen or more
versions in use.

“ISV’s are hard pressed to pick one or two to write their applications for
or specify for,” Weinberg said. “The way to promote ubiquity is to give the
same front of unity that you have for Microsoft Windows Mobile or the
Symbian OS so operators and ISVs have a platform to look to and so they can
have a meaningful conversation when they say they want an application to run
on mobile Linux.”

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