For mobile operating systems, too much Linux?

No, says panel; choice encourages innovation

As Linux-based operating systems continue to proliferate in the mobile communications marketplace, are there too many choices in open-source platforms?

The answer is no, according to the members of a panel discussion here Tuesday at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo. Having a choice in mobile operating systems can encourage innovation.

"It is not the Wild West," said Bill Weinberg, an industry analyst who moderated the "Unifying Mobile Linux Platforms" panel. "We are not dealing with wholesale fragmentation. The marketplace is jelling."

Morgan Gillis, the executive director of the LiMo Foundation, said his group believes that unification is important. But having options is a hallmark of the open source movement.

In fact, he said, unification is already happening -- even though there are still more than a half dozen open-source mobile platforms today. As recently as two years ago, Gillis said, there were dozens of such platforms on the market, creating a "horrific landscape" for developers and manufacturers who had to figure out where to invest time and effort for continuing development.

Today, Gillis said, there are several large development platforms from which developers can choose. "I think unification ... is a very good thing and that it's happening," he said.

LiMo is a consortium that is platform agnostic, Gillis said, meaning that LiMo doesn't have a preference about what is running the mobile devices, from Trolltech Qt to Java to Android or anything else. "From our point of view, it doesn't matter," he said. "LiMo's role is to bring this all together ... so it can all happen efficiently."

"For us, this is not a numbers game," he said. "What we're trying to do is kickstart greater innovation. We're trying to embrace all companies."

Another panelist, Eric Chu, group marketing manager for Google's Android mobile platform, said that unification just for the sake of unifying isn't an answer, but could be useful if the resulting mobile platforms are more efficient and better for users. A key, he said, is to provide a "complete platform" that is open for developers to improve on and add features and other critical pieces needed by mobile users.

One benefit of unification, said panelist Sy Choudhury, a staff product manager with handset chipmaking vendor Qualcomm, is that standardized platforms can be a magnet for developers to bring in new ideas, rather than having to decide what platforms on which to concentrate their efforts.

"To have some level of coalescence is truly needed," Choudhury said.

The panel was part of a first-ever Linux Mobile Conference being held here at LinuxWorld.

Disclosure: The conference is run by this publication's parent company IDG

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Todd R. Weiss

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