Two Linux mobile groups merge to pool efforts

The LiPS Forum is being folded into the LiMo Foundation

In a move aimed at consolidating their efforts to support Linux use on mobile phones, the Linux Phone Standards (LiPS) Forum is merging into the LiMo (Linux Mobile) Foundation.

The two groups -- consortiums of suppliers of components such as chip sets, Linux operating systems, mobile application stacks and handsets, as well as regional and global wireless service providers -- said they hope that joining forces will make the platform stronger.

The move comes after about a year of discussions, said Bill Weinberg, general manager of the LiPS Forum, which was created in November 2005 and is based in Sophia Antipolis, France. "The two groups, in terms of their activities, had overlapping concerns," although their central missions differed, he said.

While LiPS focused on standards, LiMo -- created in January 2007 and headquartered in London -- has promoted the shared implementation of Linux and open source in the mobile phone world by promoting middleware rather than a stack of specific applications, Weinberg said. That allows vendors to share technology investments while still differentiating their offerings, he added.

One thing LiPS and LiMo are sharing already, Weinberg noted, are member companies, many of which had joined both organizations. That overlap was a factor in the merger. "Given how aligned the two groups already were, and the shared memberships ... it made sense to join efforts," Weinberg said.

The merger is expected to be completed by the end of this month.

The move comes just two days after Nokia announced that it's creating the Symbian Foundation, which will make the competing Symbian mobile operating system an open platform with royalty-free licenses.

That announcement does not conflict with the LiPS/LiMo merger, Weinberg said, noting that some LiMo members are already members of Symbian and other related groups. "The Symbian ecosystem already exists."

Weinberg said he expects that the industry will continue to see the consolidation of Linux mobile groups in the future. There are two-dozen or so operating system choices, "but if you examine them from the base upward, you see they are coalescing," he noted.

Andrew Shikiar, LiMo's director of global marketing, said his group sees LiPS's decision to merge as a "big endorsement" of LiMo's mission. Last month, Verizon Wireless named Linux its mobile operating system of choice and said that it would introduce Linux-based phones developed through the LiMo Foundation in the US in 2009.

Analyst Stephen Drake at IDC called the merger "a very good thing" for the groups and the mobile Linux industry. "The opportunity in mobility for Linux is a viable one," he said, but it has been harmed in the past by fragmentation "that in some ways has stalled Linux."

As a result, other vendors, including Apple with its iPhone, and Nokia and the Symbian operating system, have been making headlines. "Any kind of consolidation in the Linux space, I think, is important. Anytime you have multiple flavors, it can cause confusion in the marketplace and can slow development."

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