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Linux takes backseat in new Motorola phones

Developers won't be able to create and run Linux apps due to security issues, Motorola says

(IDG News Service) — Motorola Inc. grabbed a lot of headlines in February when it announced the world's first mobile phone that runs Linux, however, developers won't be able to create Linux applications and run those on the phone because Linux is not secure enough, Motorola spokesman David Rudd said Wednesday.

"The main issue here is that a phone's operating system must be made secure so that, for example, badly written or malicious code cannot power up the modem and rack up charges on your bill," he wrote in an e-mail response to questions. Developers may get to write Linux applications for the Motorola phone at a later stage, but Motorola wants to put out a product and test it first, Rudd said.

Motorola wants developers to create Java applications. Linux takes a "backseat" to Java and functions as "a vehicle to deliver Java, the enabler of the applications on the phone," Rudd said in an interview after the February announcement of the A760 phone that runs Linux. "The operating system is a necessary element, but not quite as strategic as Java."

"Our strategy continues to be that Java is our primary application developer language," Joseph Coletta, vice president of applications and solutions at Motorola said in an interview after the phone was announced. Motorola's MotoCoder developer program also focuses on Java applications.

When Motorola said it would introduce a phone running Linux in the Asia-Pacific region later this year, it said that supporting both Linux and Java creates the "most open and flexible environment possible for the development of compelling applications." But now the Schaumburg, Illinois, handset maker is playing down the role of Linux in that.

"A lot was made of the Linux operating system in this handset," Chris Jones, a senior analyst at Canalys.com Ltd. in Reading, England, said Thursday. "Motorola was quite public about reasons for going for the Linux platform and it is a bit of a turnaround that they are sort of pulling back from the importance of Linux."

Giving less importance to Linux on the phone may be a U-turn in terms of marketing strategy, but it does not make a difference to phone users, according to Jones. "Most users don't care what the operating system on their phone is," he said.

Making a big thing of Linux on the phone could have been a marketing tactic to stand out from the crowd when it comes to handset announcements, Jones said. "We'll see what the final marketing message is when the phone comes out."

Motorola uses a special version of Linux developed by MontaVista Software Inc. in Sunnyvale, California. Other Motorola phones run on an operating system developed in-house. Java applications developed for the Linux phone will also work on Motorola phones that use other operating systems, Rudd said.

Motorola's A760 was developed in China, will feature a color touch screen and digital camera and will offer full PDA (personal digital assistant) functionality. The device will support Bluetooth radio technology, USB (universal serial bus), infrared and over the air connections for synchronization with a PC, Motorola said in February [see "Motorola calls on Linux for smart phone," Feb. 13.]

Other handset makers working on handsets running MontaVista's embedded Linux include NEC Corp. of Tokyo.

More Stories By Joris Evers

Joris Evers is an Amsterdam correspondent for the IDG News Service, a Linux.SYS-CON.com affiliate.

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