Linux advances on mobile phones

The move means that handset makers have access to a ready-made user interface and developer tools for Linux-based phones, which should lead to a wider choice of mobile devices for firms.

Qtopia Phone Edition, due for release early next year, is a user interface for phones that runs on top of embedded Linux. The software is similar to the Qtopia PDA Edition seen on Sharp’s Linux-based Zaurus handheld, and already features in Motorola’s A760 handset, announced last month.

Trolltech is pitching Qtopia Phone Edition as the Linux alternative to Microsoft and Symbian smartphones. “We think we have developed a good user interface, and we’re bringing [to phones] the tools that make it easy for developers to build applications, like in the Zaurus,” said Eirik Chambe-Eng, president of Trolltech. “The basic challenge [in putting Qtopia on a phone] is screen size, and it had to work with a keypad as well as a touch-screen,” he added.

The Qtopia Phone Edition platform includes personal information management (PIM) tools; an email client; dialler; messaging client; and multimedia applications, including an MP3 player. This fits into just 8MB of Flash memory with the embedded Linux kernel, meaning the handset can be smaller and cheaper than those using Symbian or Windows Mobile, Trolltech said.

Qtopia Phone Edition includes a synchronisation framework to keep users’ contacts, calendar, to-do list and files up to date with those on their PCs. Currently, this only supports Microsoft Outlook or Qtopia Desktop – a PIM application from Trolltech that runs on Windows, Mac OS X and Red Hat or Suse Linux.

Trolltech believes its developer community gives it a significant advantage. Qtopia Phone Edition is compatible with the firm’s Qt environment, a cross-platform C++ development framework that can be used

in building applications for Windows, Linux/Unix, Mac OS X and embedded Linux. This should make it easy for developers to create applications for phones running Qtopia, Trolltech said, and could also attract companies looking to build and deploy their own custom mobile applications.

“It was vital to keep compatibility, so the programming interfaces are the same as Qtopia PDA. Existing tools can be ported across very quickly,” said Chambe-Eng.

Motorola’s A760 handset, currently available only in the Far East, runs Qtopia Phone Edition on top of MontaVista Linux Consumer Electronics Edition. Chambe-Eng said that a Linux handset from another maker was “just around the corner” and up to four others were in development, but he declined to name the manufacturers.



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