Judging from comments made at this month's 3GSM World Congress, the future of Linux and other open source operating systems as a core cell phone platform are bright, but also filled with challenges.
3GSM World Congress is one of the premier technology trade shows in the US$1.1 trillion worldwide mobile phone industry. Several cell phone vendors, network operators and mobile handset operating system companies at the event sounded bullish on the future of open source operating systems running on the phones they sell and services they provide to mobile customers. As end users look for more advanced services from their cell phones - from video, music, gaming and anything else teenagers can think up - carriers and handset providers say standardization on software will be key. This means that the myriad operating systems used by phone makers - as many as 15 for some companies - will be pared down.
Industry standardization and consolidation efforts have always been Linux's golden opportunity in enterprises. Linux already has a significant presence in the mobile device market, such as PDAs, smart phones and on basic entry-level phones from vendors like Motorola. Wireless titans say more open platforms, such as Linux, could benefit the industry in allowing for more innovation by broadening the base of developers of mobile applications. But the downside of open sourcing cell phone operating systems - loss of control by phone makers and service providers, and the more potential for, literally, airborne viruses could be drawbacks.
So it remains to be seen if Linux will do to Windows CE and Symbian what it has done to NetWare and Unix in enterprise servers - consistently steal market share. Linux has not fared as well in customer-facing applications - namely, the desktop PC. But a reliable, multi-featured, customizable and open platform for cellphones sounds better to me than an operating system monopoly or duopoly.