PalmSource Adds Linux to Smart-Phone Mix

Updated: PalmSource acquires mobile Linux vendor China MobileSoft and announces plans to implement the Palm operating system on top of Linux.

PalmSource will market PalmOS as a middleware and application stack for Linux mobile phones. "PalmOS for Linux" initially will target smart phone manufacturers in China. To gain a local presence there, PalmSource has acquired China MobileSoft, a successful mobile phone application software startup.

"Local presence and local engineering is the only way to be successful in China," said David Limp, PalmSources director of business development. "From Coca-Cola to Buick, theyre successful because they take a long-term strategy and put local resources there immediately."

China is generally considered to represent the worlds largest mobile phone market, with nearly as many current mobile subscribers as the entire U.S. population. In the past, most phones in China have used simple, proprietary operating systems developed in-house, but thats all changing, according to Limp.

"A lot of manufacturers up until now have developed their own software," he said. "The first-generation phones were voice-only, or voice-only plus a few features. Now, the average phone in China has a camera and MMS [Multimedia Messaging Service], and the carriers are putting infrastructure in place to support these features.

"The effort to create the software is getting more difficult," Limp said. "This has already happened in the global market, resulting in companies such as OpenWave. ... This trend is now starting to happen in China."

Indeed, China MobileSoft has been an early beneficiary of this trend. The companys platform-independent MMS, tri-mode mBrowser, Bluetooth stack, e-mail application and other phone products have already appeared in more than a million phones, it says, while it counts some 11 phone manufacturers among its customers. The companys merger with PalmSource will enable it to enhance its mobile phone applications with the familiar Palm look and feel, it says.

Additionally, China MobileSoft sells a feature-phone platform and a smart phone platform. The latter is based on mLinux, an embedded distribution that supports a wide range of architectures and processors, including a Dragonball chip used in some Palm devices and Linux PDAs.

But according to Chris Dunphy, PalmSources director of product marketing, PalmSource is unlikely to offer a complete phone stack, including the Linux OS layer, anytime soon. "Some customers will want an all-you-can-eat solution from us, including the kernel. But thats down the road a ways," he said.

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Editors Note: This story was updated to include more information about the acquisition.

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