Linux set for more handsets in 2008-Torvalds

HELSINKI, Dec 14 (Reuters) - The Linux computer operating system, which so far has had little success in use for cellphones, is set to become more widely available in handsets next year, helped by Google's GOOG.O mobile push, said Linux's creator Linus Torvalds.

Linux is the most popular type of free, or so-called open source, software which is available to the public to be used, revised and shared.

Linux suppliers earn money selling improvements and technical services, and Linux competes directly with the Windows software of Microsoft MSFT.O, which charges for software and opposes freely sharing its code.

Torvalds, a Finn who created the original Linux in the early 1990s and put the code up on the Internet for others to enhance, still oversees the development of the operating system, which is now the world’s biggest grassroots software phenomenon.

Britain's Symbian, of which Nokia NOK1V.HE owns almost 50 percent, is the market leader in mobile device operating systems, followed by Microsoft's handset system Windows Mobile.

But last month Web search leader Google said it would offer a software platform, built on Linux, to make the Internet work as smoothly on mobile phones as it does on computers.

“I haven’t been personally involved but it certainly looks like 2008 may be, thanks to the Google Alliance, one of the years you will find more widely available phones with Linux,” Torvalds told Reuters in an interview on Friday.

Google is working with Motorola MOT.N and some other large telecoms players, including operator T-Mobile DTEGn.DE and chipmaker Qualcomm QCOM.O, to develop an open software platform named "Android" for mobile devices.

Torvalds said Motorola has been one of the first players to come out with Linux phones, mainly in China and also in the United States.

Phone makers involved with Google’s alliance would come out with Linux models next year.

“Right now there are no phones in the market. You can find some of the phone manufacturers making pre-release versions. You can’t buy them yet but I think next year you can,” Torvalds said.

He said wider use of Linux in phones had been hampered by the fact that the real mass market was essentially in the low-end segment of devices rather than smart-phones.

“That seems to be changing. It used to be that they are so expensive that, by necessity, most people even in the industrialised world ... would not go for a smartphone. Quite frankly, Linux makes much more sense in a smartphone than it makes in a really low-end product,” Torvalds said.

(Reporting by Sami Torma; Editing by Louise Ireland/Tarmo Virki)

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