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An interview with LiMo’s Morgan Gillis

Jul 31, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive

LinuxDevices.com spoke with LiMo Foundation executive director Morgan Gillis about LiMo's upcoming R2 release and a slate of new LiMo phones due this year. Gillis discusses why LiMo is different than other mobile Linux platforms and offers insights on Intel's Wind River acquisition, Android, Chrome, Symbian, and more.

LINUXDEVICES: What sort of progress can we expect to see with LiMo in the second half of 2009?

GILLIS (pictured, right): We're continuing to make strong progress and are seeing our membership grow. One of the characteristics of the membership is the strong engagement of major wireless operators. We now have 12 major operators, of which six are on the board. Meanwhile, the number of new LiMo devices is up to 34, and in August we'll be announcing more.

LINUXDEVICES: Will the August announcements feature handsets that ship with R1 or R2 releases, and will we see phones outside of the NTT DoCoMo market?

GILLIS: The phones announced in August will include some later R1 models, as well as some R2 models. These will include more DoCoMo phones, but you'll also see new handsets offered by other operators.

LINUXDEVICES: What are the key features of the R2 release?

GILLIS: The R2 handsets that come to market toward end of the year will be the first to offer BONDI, which sits at the heart of our widget development strategy. We're pleased with the rapid adoption of R2 within the LiMo community and the interest among developers in BONDI. It enables us to provide an engagement strategy with developers that is broader than what Google is offering, which is just focused on Android.

With R2 and BONDI we are engaging native and Java developers, as well as widget developers working multiple application run-time formats. We hope to bring many of these widget developers across from the desktop. Our philosophy is to engage as many developers of all kinds as possible.

LINUXDEVICES: With its interoperable framework for widget development, does BONDI begin to address criticisms from observers like Andreas Constantinou that LiMo has been too absorbed in the nuts and bolts of the phone stack instead of focusing on the higher application layers?

GILLIS: I think it does. Even the best analysts like Andreas sometimes run behind the realities of new initiatives, and I suspect that when he wrote that, he had limited visibility of what was taking place. It takes time for the various aspects of the strategy to come together.

We deliberately released R1 with a narrow scope because we felt that it was strategically important to get started. The original purpose was to get more innovation going because founder companies were frustrated that the mobile Internet was not taking off for mass consumers. R2 is designed to be a much more complete platform, and BONDI is an important strand of our strategy.

LINUXDEVICES: LiMo appears to be flying under the radar somewhat, and is rarely mentioned in the line-up of other major smartphone platforms. Is there an issue that mobile technology journalists tend to look at the market like a horse-race? There are difficulties comparing single-company products like the iPhone, BlackBerry, and Palm Pre with something like Android, which spans many carriers and handset makers. And LiMo appears to be even more undefined in terms of branding.

GILLIS: I think it's important to have an understanding of the key differences between LiMo and Android. It's not really a winner takes all situation. LiMo fits extremely well in certain strategies, and Google is doing something different with Android in bringing its own services to operators with Google branding.

In the case of LiMo, operators are attracted to the independent governance that sits behind the platform. It's not controlled by one company, and the decisions of the roadmap are taken collaboratively. Secondly, the mobile operators are free to offer their own platforms and services based on LiMo, so we offer greater flexibility for deeply customizable handsets. With Android, on the other hand, the platform comes with its own UI, and the operating system is tightly coupled to the handset, so there's less flexibility.

LINUXDEVICES: We're starting to see some fragmentation of the Android experience, with for example, HTC offering its own Sense UI on its HTC Hero handset. Since, unlike LiMo, Android is sold as this consistent user experience, will this cause confusion among consumers and operators?

GILLIS: I think we are starting to see signs of a fractured UI issue with Android. What's more, Android uses the Apache license which is a so-called permissive license. It has a weak copyleft provision, which opens up the possibility of larger fragmentation. So there is a risk of losing cohesion based upon the UI aspect.

LINUXDEVICES: Will Google's Chrome OS have any impact in smartphones, as some analysts believe, and if so, could it create more uncertainty around Android?

GILLIS: Well, I don' t know about mobile phones, but Chrome has certainly caused uncertainty about Android in the MID and netbook areas. There's a rapid change underway there at the moment, and a lot of uncertainty about the boundaries between MIDs and smartbooks and netbooks. Chrome OS is playing into a situation which is already in a large area of flux.

LINUXDEVICES: Since the last time we spoke, Wind River has been acquired by Intel. Seeing that Wind River is a major player in LiMo, how might this change its role in the consortium?

GILLIS: We have had several conversations with both Intel and Wind River since the acquisition was announced, and our expectation is that Wind River will be operated by Intel on a fully arms length basis and that Wind River will have full freedom to be architecture independent.

It is our belief then that Wind River will continue to operate at the center of the LiMo ecosystem as a board member and a company that closely supports a number of device companies bringing LiMo handsets to market. We're not expecting any big changes in the relationship.

LINUXDEVICES: Does the recent partnership announcement between Intel and Nokia complicate things, however? With collaboration already underway between the Intel-backed Moblin project and Nokia's Maemo on oFono telephony technology and other open source projects, could both platforms eventually compete in the smartphone market?

GILLIS: It looks as if the Nokia Intel initiative is more of a long-term, experimental partnership. There would be a considerable amount of work involved in harmonizing Maemo with Moblin and adding telephony, so it looks as if this may be somewhat experimental.

LINUXDEVICES: As a former Symbian senior VP, what do you think of the Symbian Foundation's progress in going open source?

GILLIS: Nokia's strategy with converting the old Symbian into the Symbian Foundation is to attract other smartphone members to broaden its market footprint, but it remains to be seen whether that will be successful. So far, we have not seen any additional handset vendors moving to Symbian. Although Symbian is very established with Nokia's products, it is unclear whether it will expand.

LINUXDEVICES: Do you see Nokia sticking with Symbian for its high-end smartphones, or will it instead move to Linux?

GILLIS: Symbian is already very well established in Nokia smartphones, so Symbian will remain. As for Maemo, we will have to wait and see Nokia's real strategy for Linux, and that may take two or three years to emerge. Nokia's eventual position may be influenced by the degree with which which it can get the open source community to engage with Symbian.

It's quite difficult to drop an established proprietary technology into the open source world and get developers to quickly start engaging with it. The more successful open source projects are those that begin in the open source world and grow organically. If there isn't good engagement with Symbian by open source developers, Linux may emerge as the solution.

LINUXDEVICES: By most accounts, the iPhone 3G S still leads the smartphone market in terms of features and UI, and a number of reviews have pegged the Palm Pre and its WebOS as being more sophisticated than the Android or LiMo phones to date. Will single-company products always have that advantage in terms of quickly bringing advanced features to market?

GILLIS: Closed business models do have some advantages in terms of bringing forward planned, focused innovation because the vendor controls all aspects of the system. There is also more certainty for the investor in a closed system in terms of timing and quantum of return on investment. In contrast, an open system has a better chance of bringing forward real innovation, the unexpected stuff that nobody could have planned. It also provides the capacity for very quickly replicating innovation that emerges from closed systems.

The iPhone was innovative, but open platform phones have moved very quickly to implement very similar features and in some ways better features. Still, Apple did a big favor to the mobile industry by demonstrating to consumers what a mobile app is. Smartphones have been available for some time, but in North America, especially, they have not really taken off until the iPhone, which was packaged to consumers in an innovative way. Over time, however, an open ecosystem like LiMo has more power to yield innovation.


 
This article was originally published on LinuxDevices.com and has been donated to the open source community by QuinStreet Inc. Please visit LinuxToday.com for up-to-date news and articles about Linux and open source.



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