Verizon Wireless, Mozilla Join LiMo--Big News for Mobile OSS

by Ostatic Staff - May. 14, 2008

Linux-based mobile phones have just picked up added momentum, thanks to Verizon Wireless. Numerous Linux phones and phones based on Google's Android (Linux-based) platform were announced early this year at the Mobile World Congress, and many companies joined the LiMo Foundation--the organization behind improved mobile Linux technology. However, while U.S.-based phone makers announced plans for Linux phones, not a single large U.S. service provider joined the LiMo Foundation's cause. That's changed in a big way now, as Verizon Wireless becomes the first U.S.-based operator to join the LiMo foundation. Mozilla and others have just joined as well.

The LiMo Foundation began as a consortium set up by Motorola, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic, NEC and Samsung. Motorola and Samsung, among others had released mobile phones running Linux before, but got lukewarm reception due to performance problems and a dearth of useful applications. LiMo's goals are to unify mobile Linux development, improve platform performance, and spur application development--much of it open source.

At the Mobile World Congress, earlier this year, as we've covered, LiMo's Linux mobile platform got high marks for much improved performance. There were more than 20 new phones based on LiMo's platform announced there, and many more based on Google's Android platform, which is Linux-based. These phones are expected to arrive in waves later this year.

In addition to Verizon Wireless joining the LiMo Foundation, Infineon Technologies, Kvaleberg AS, Mozilla, Red Bend Software, Sagem Mobiles, SFR, and SK Telecom have signed on as partners. Of those companies, Mozilla's participation is particularly notable--a strong positive note for open source mobile telephony.

At the recent Web 2.0 show in San Francisco, Mozilla's chairman Mitchell Baker discussed Fennec, a new mobile browser that Mozilla is developing. Many open sourcers hope that it offers a Firefox-like browsing experience on mobile phones. What Baker wasn't clear about was exactly what plans Mozilla had for its upcoming mobile browser and open source mobile telephone platforms.

Mozilla's participation in the LiMo Foundation almost certainly means that we will see Fennec, or an offering like it, on Linux-based phones. That could boost the utility and popularity of the upcoming wave of Linux phones enormously.

ABI Research recently predicted that Linux phones will hold a whopping 20 percent of the mobile phone market by 2010. To put that in perspective, that's almost the market share that Apple's red hot iPhone has, according to data from NPD Research. Mobile phones promise to become a thriving new frontier for open source platforms and applications, backed by big players with deep pockets. That's very good news. For more on this story, see our sister blog GigaOm's post.