Microsoft taking small steps to mobile open source‾

Caroline Gabriel/Rethink Wireless
13 May 2009

Last week Microsoft pleased the cult following that still loves the Danger Sidekick smartphone - which the Windows giant acquired last year - by releasing a new model, the LX, rather than letting the hardware platform die quietly, or get a Windows Mobile revamp.

Since Microsoft has not chosen to put WinMo on the only phone hardware it actually owns - despite persistent rumors that it plans to create new reference platforms of its own for this market - there may be another agenda, the development of greater knowledge of the open source world in mobile devices.

This may be an approach that Microsoft would like to shun, but it cannot ignore it, given the rising power of open source platforms like Android and the newly open Symbian.

Sidekick broke new ground in the user experience when it emerged and though many of its innovations (like app stores) have been superseded by Apple, Nokia and others, its main value to Microsoft seems to be to gain greater intelligence about the cellphone experience and how to improve it.

Though the LX will generate miniscule revenues by MS\' standards, insiders said it would enable the software giant to "learn more about user behavior and uptake of certain smartphone technologies" - intelligence that may perhaps feed into new projects based around WinMo 7.

These could include developments of new form factors with LG; the much rumored (and possibly now canceled) "Pink" project; or the equally oft-rumored "Zune phone".

But as yet, the Sidekick retains its own OS - the question is whether Microsoft will start to run WinMo or Windows CE on the product in order to get even better feedback on users\' behavior and acceptance.

It may, however, be wanting intelligence in another area, open source operating systems. LX will run open source NetBSD OS, and Microsoft was recently advertising for people with NetBSD skills to help launch the new Sidekick, pointed out PCWorld. Perhaps a tiny step towards open source acceptance for the Windows giant‾

Other majors have already taken the approach of experimenting with open source platforms on non-core device lines, in order to tap into developer and user preferences and keep their options open in future.

Nokia is an obvious example with its Linux range of internet tablets, which use a Maemo-oriented system.

The tablets are successful products, but small fry compared to the range of Symbian smartphones, but they are allowing Nokia to gain expertise and market influence in Linux, and to boost Maemo as a counterweight to Google\'s Linux choices.

And in future it may well make its software, such as Series 60, cross-platform, harnessing both Maemo and Symbian (a move prefigured by the acquisition of the Trolltech cross-OS development system).

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