Looking at Linux and Phone Standards
I listened to a talk John Ostrem gave at the 2006 Emerging Telephony Conference. I got the podcast from ITConversations. His talk is about LiPS, the Linux Phone Standards Forum. The talk went well enough and I learned a little bit but I was left wanting to know more. I guess that's a good side-effect for a standards group. LiPS seems to be interested in the middle layers of software on a mobile phone. They're not in the kernel stuff, that's something that OSDL is working on. They're not at the top layer, that's up to application developers and left for various handset and service providers to differentiate themselves. LiPS sounds like it's there to work with the in-between parts. The window management and some of the UI mechanics - not UI details like layout or design but maybe widgets or something under there. Their their about page lays out steps they're following to come up with recommendations. Rather than creating a complete framework for developing software for Linux on cell phones the idea seems to be that existing projects should be identified and applied. I like the sound of that. They've been at it for about a year so far and I hope that the project comes up with some useful output. They definitely have a tough environment to work in. The service providers really hold all the cards - they control complete access to the network and won't let you in if you don't play by their rules. As an aside, I don't see why that situation is acceptable when the cell networks are granted the right to use public airwaves for transmission and public space for towers and other infrastructure. Why they're not required to grant access in the same manner as the wired phone networks is beyond me. The OSDL Mobile Linux Initiative (MLI) is a lower level project that is working on getting the Linux kernel in better shape for mobile devices. They list 8 technical focus areas on their data sheet:
  • Development Tools
  • I/O and Networking
  • Memory Management
  • Multimedia
  • Performance
  • Power Management
  • Security
  • Storage
So a mobile phone based on Linux could be built to comply with MLI specifications and the upcoming LiPS specifications and the idea would be that this would make the application developer's life easier by reducing complexity and reducing costs. When can I buy one ;) ? Seriously, I'd love to see something that I could use as my normal phone and also play with, much like I do with computers in my day-to-day life. More and more I get the feeling that it's not going to happen with the current carriers though. I see it as far more likely to happen with some disruptive change like a WiMax enabled by powerline Internet access or some farther-fetched crazy concept. The reason software is the way it is today isn't just because of a plan by a large standards body or the co-ordinated actions of some large corporations. It's because of disruptive changes that undermined the plans of large corporations to continue increasing costs of software without bound. Woops, almost started ranting again. Anyhow, I just want a phone and network that's just hardware I can run Free software on. Is that crazy? Maybe. But I can still hope. Oh, and one other thing, the Emerging Telephony Conference is coming up February 27 - March 1 in San Francisco (yes I'm looking for more excuses to go to California). It looks like they're going by the hipper moniker ETel Conference 2007 now. It's way too expensive for me but your situation may be different - pay attention to the discounts listed below the prices on the registration page. User Groups, Academics and Non-profits can get a big cut off the normal price.
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