Panasonic, NEC unveil 9 Linux phones

BARCELONA (Reuters) - NEC and Panasonic will unveil on Monday nine new cell phone models running the open-source LiMo operating system, wireless Linux foundation LiMo said at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona.

The focus of the cell phone market has been shifting to software development since Google and Apple entered the mobile market in the past two years, with phone vendors and operators increasingly looking for open source alternatives like LiMo to cut costs.

The market for software platforms on cell phones is led by Nokia’s Symbian operating system, but it has lost much ground over the last year to Apple and BlackBerry maker Research in Motion.

Computer operating system Linux has had little success in cell phones thus far, but its role is increasing with the LiMo platform, and Google is using Linux for its Android platform.

Linux is the most popular type of free or so-called open source computer operating system, 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 Microsoft, which charges for its Windows software and opposes freely sharing its code.

LiMo also said five firms -- Aromasoft, CasioHitachi Mobile Communications, Marvell, Opera Software and Swisscom -- had joined the not-for-profit foundation, increasing its membership to 55.

Google’s Android camp has so far announced 47 members.

However, LiMo has been missing support from the largest cell phone vendors -- so far only NEC, Panasonic and Motorola have unveiled phones using its software.

The world’s second- and third-largest cell phone vendors, Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics, are members of LiMo, but have not unveiled commercial models.

LG Electronics will be providing technology previews of its sleek touchscreen handset at the trade show, LiMo said, while Samsung will show plans of two devices.

LiMo hopes to benefit from its focus on giving greater say over software development to telecoms operators.

Last week its key members -- Vodafone, Orange, Japan’s NTT DoCoMo, Korea’s SK Telecom, U.S. operator Verizon Wireless and Telefonica -- pledged to introduce LiMo phones in 2009.

Reporting by Tarmo Virki, editing by Martin Golan