The Penguin's New BFF

Posted by: Sarah Lacy on June 15, 2006

In case, you forgot your junior high days, BFF is note-passing slang for “best friends forever.” And, don’t get jealous IBM, but it looks like Tux’s new best pal may be Motorola. In case, you’ve missed it, Motorola is into Linux— really into Linux.


Last November, we broke the news that Motorola was planning on making Linux the de facto operating system in their phones-- like 80% of their phones. Why? As we said at the time: it's cheap, malleable and supported by millions of programmers all over the world.

The problem is Linux needs a lot of work first. The great thing about that is there's a whole ecosystem to do it. The bad thing is that ecosystem can move slowly. So Moto is helping prod it along. In May, it announced "MOTOTDEV" a new web-based developer community, and this morning it announced a new consortium with other friends-o-Linux, FOL for future reference, including NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic Mobile Communications, Samsung Electronics and Vodafone.

The gang will form an independent foundation that will forge ahead creating the first open Linux-based software platform for mobile devices, with published APIs, development tools, and more. The group will be somewhat Asia-focused as NEC and Panasonic make up 50% market share in Japan, where DoCoMo is the leading service provider. All three are already selling millions of swanky Linux phones in Japan. "This says we're serious and very consistent about what we're doing," says Greg Besio Motorola's head of mobile-device software. "We're putting in place both internally and through partnerships all the pieces we need to execute (our strategy to have Linux on the bulk of our devices). At this point it's a matter of time."

Does that mean other industry consortiums, like the one organized by the Open Source Development Labs, have been moving too slowly? Besio said not necessarily. "I'd say if we want to get done what we want to get done, we need to provide some consistent direction that will accelerate it," he says. "We know what it will take to make Linux successful in this space."

Although Besio says the push towards Linux has nothing to do with the bad reviews Microsoft's operating system has gotten on the new Q phone, to me, it underscores the need for better mobile software. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how aesthetically pleasing a handset is or how long the battery lasts if all those whiz bang features are unusable.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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