Linux-Powered Smartphone Use on the Rise

By 2012, smart phones that use a scaled-down variant of the open source Linux operating system will account for roughly 31 percent of all smart devices in the marketplace, according to ABI Research. Linux smartphone technology will see its fastest growth, with annual growth rates as high as 75 percent, in the 2007 to 2012 period.

According to ABI's Research Director Stuart Carlaw, Linux is becoming a contender in the carrier community. Moreover, device manufacturers such as Motorola and Nokia have developed plans to include Linux in their products. Linux also stands to gain from the increasing availability of mobile broadband.

ABI analysts see horizontal and vertical fragmentation in the market as a concern, as well as Microsoft's patent challenge. Microsoft officials have alleged that the official Linux kernel infringes on 235 of its patents. However, Microsoft has failed to specify the exact violations, only claiming that the kernel itself contains 42 violations and the graphical user interface (despite being separate from the kernel) contains an additional 65 violations. The free software community reacted by starting a "Sue Me First" campaign designed to force Microsoft's hand, but a company official suggested that Microsoft would not pursue litigation on this issue.

To make matters even more inscrutable, at the time it was (and still is) unclear if the 65 alleged GUI-related violations that Microsoft brought to the table refer to the X Window System itself (the rendering engine that powers the Linux GUI) or the various window manager projects (the actual user interfaces) such as GNOME or KDE that run on top of X. For instance, in the case of a smartphone, a scaled-down Linux kernel would likely be used, along with a minimalist window manager designed to run highly specialized software in an embedded system.

Grassroots efforts are continuing, such as the OpenMoko project, an open source development effort that uses Linux for smartphones. OpenMoko code currently works with several phone models, such as the Neo1973, the Palm TX and the Treo650. However, the OpenMoko Web site states that OpenMoko is not ready for common use, and that implementation on several models is sketchy at best. Still, the project demonstrates that the concept of open source phones is a viable one.

ABI's report, "Mobile Linux," is specifically focused on the challenges to Linux in this market and can be accessed here.

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Will Kraft is a Web designer, technical consultant and freelance writer. He can be reached at Also, check out his blog at