A Look at LiMo: Interview with David "Lefty" Schlesinger

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 18, 2010

Before there was Android or MeeGo, there was the LiMo Foundation. Founded in January 2007, the foundation was established to provide a Linux-based platform for mobile devices. Despite being around longer, LiMo hasn't gotten quite as much attention as other Linux mobile efforts.

To get some insight into LiMo, we talked with David "Lefty" Schlesinger, who chairs the LiMo Foundation's Open Source Committee and works for LiMo member ACCESS as its director of Open Source Technologies.

OStatic: Tell us a bit about LiMo: What is it, and what does it produce?

LiMo is a consortium of carriers, cell phone manufacturers, systems integrators, and ISVs who collaborate to develop, produce and promote a "foundation" operating system stack aimed at cell phones and based largely on community-developed open source.

OStatic: The perception is that Android is the leading Linux-based mobile OS right now. Is this accurate?

Android has certainly attracted a good amount of uptake, but there is a variety of concerns with Android: it requires a decent learning curve for a developer, but more importantly in spite of its being available under an open source license it's not at all community-based. In other words, essentially no one works on the Android platform itself outside of Google.

We're in very early times for devices like the iPhone and platforms like Android, and there's going to be a lot of change over the next several years, at least as much as there has been over the last few. We're going to be seeing a plethora of new form-factors, new capabilities and new services becoming available.

It's worth keeping in mind that the dynamic with cell phones is very different than it was with desktop systems over the past decade or so. People routinely change their phones every couple of years, and typically don't show a lot of brand consciousness about it. The average iPhone "power user" uses only a few of the apps they've gotten with any regularity and has an average investment in applications of less than $80.

OStatic: How does the LiMo OS compare with Android, feature-wise?

Android presents a full stack from drivers to user experience, while LiMo aims to provide a foundational system on which carriers and cell phone manufacturers can elaborate. The LiMo platform certainly provides the bulk of the actual functionality of Android, but doesn't impose a specific user interface.

This enables a broad level of differentiation and customization among Foundation members, their services and products, ranging from Vodafone's H1 and M1 phones, produced by Samsung, to the "First ELSE" phone from ELSE Ltd., which uses LiMo-compliant software from ACCESS.

OStatic: What's the state of application development for LiMo phones? Can We expect the same kind of applications we're seeing on the iPhone or Android?

There's plenty of applications development for LiMo phones, but to date it's largely been "second-party" development, i.e. applications developed to ship with a phone rather than those to be installed post-purchase.

There's a lot of interest in facilitating third-party development within the LiMo ecosystem. Since there's a much greater variety of hardware available from LiMo members, there are some challenges to doing this in an optimal way. The initial focus is on development within the context of web-based widgets, etc., but we are working on native development SDKs for public use and expect to have something available this year.

OStatic: Who's involved in the LiMo community? Is there much involvement from independent developers?

We have a number of independent developers among the Associate Members of the Foundation, including organizations like Acrodea, Red Bend, Adobe, Kvaleberg, Mozilla and many others.

There are also a number of independent developers working on the open source BONDI SDK project which is hosted by LiMo.

OStatic: Are there equivalent handsets to the Android or iPhone?

In the sense of handsets for which independently-developed third-party native applications can be purchased and installed, not yet. Stay tuned, though. We're actively working on the standards and infrastructure to facilitate this.

OStatic: Is LiMo being developed for devices like tablets, netbooks, or strictly for phones?

Our focus, at the moment, is strictly on handsets, but that's more an artifact of the current state of our members' businesses. I expect there will be greater outreach and coordination, moving forward, with efforts like MeeGo; we've already seen something along these lines with the recently-formed WAC.

Several of LiMo's Founder members — e.g. Panasonic, NEC, and Samsung — are big players in the Consumer Electronics Business and are looking at incorporating the LiMo platform within a broader convergence strategy.

OStatic: The Apple vs. HTC patent suit is getting a lot of press right now. What's the LiMo foundation stance on software patents, and how is it suited to deal with these types of suits?

That's an excellent question. LiMo provides an intellectual property "safe harbor" for its members which represents a collective pool of some 300,000 patents in total and protects members from patent assertions.

Members certainly have their own views on software patents, but all agree that they're a reality currently and that pooling our resources here mitigates the collective risk to members of these sorts of lawsuits.