Special to CNET News.com
CANNES, France—Several leading mobile technology players are cooperating on a project to explore Linux's potential as the major software component in smart phones of the future.
At the 3GSM World Congress taking place here this week, Infineon Technologies, Samsung and embedded-Linux specialist Trolltech said they have created a 3G, or third-generation, smart phone built around the Linux operating system.
The prototype uses Linux software from MontaVista Software, a company that creates versions of the open-source operating system that can be embedded into special-purpose computing devices such as telecommunications equipment. The prototype features services such as video calling and streaming, Web browsing, stereo speakers and Java-based 3D gaming.
The handset is able to connect to UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) networks, as well as those that use the lower-speed EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) technology standard.
Although the companies behind the prototype have no immediate plans to put it into production, they say mobile carriers and handset manufacturers have been widely interested in the potential of Linux as a more open operating system for smart phones.
"Linux will secure a significant share of the feature and smart-phone segment...in the next design cycle, especially due to its openness and low-cost advantage," said Hermann Eul, executive vice president of Infineon's communication business group.
Jurgen Paulus, Infineon's senior manager of product marketing, agreed that the use of Linux, as opposed to an operating system from Symbian or Microsoft, could lead to cheaper smart phones.
"It's one of the big questions, and I would say yes," he said. "Symbian is very stable, with all the relevant mobile drivers, but there is a lot of interest in the potential of Linux."
Paulus said that the real drive for Linux-powered phones is coming from carriers, which want more control over their platforms.
He added that "techies are certainly enthusiastic about the idea of Linux smart phones, but it is not quite mass-market yet."
Among the software used by the prototype is Infineon's UMTS/EDGE dual-mode technology, Samsung's Linux kernel and drivers certified by MontaVista. The prototype also uses Trolltech's Qtopia software for Linux-based mobile phones, and audio and video applications from Emuzed.
Trolltech is bullish about Linux's future in the mobile market. The company said Monday at 3GSM that more than 50 manufacturers are in the process of designing, building and shipping devices that use Trolltech's embedded-Linux software.
"The large number of leading organizations that are building new phones and other technologies on Linux and Qtopia will dispel any lingering doubt that Linux is going to be a core platform for mobile devices," Haavard Nord, Trolltech's chief executive, said in a statement. "2005 will be an important year for embedded Linux."
Andrew Donoghue of ZDNet UK reported from Cannes, France.