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oFono: a proof point

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The oFono project may hold some clues to how things will work. This is a GPLv2 licensed stack for mobile telephony applications that acts as a layer between the low level modem interfaces and mobile applications users interact with, to handle calls, select networks and pass information – a key part of any mobile device that will offer voice as well as data connections. This kind of engineering is complicated; having its own radio stack has given HTC a significant advantage in moving from Windows Mobile to Android phone development faster than other phone vendors, who have used Microsoft’s own stack on their Windows Mobile devices and would have to start from scratch.

O’Shea calls oFono the first "proof point" that Intel and Nokia can work together to deliver a stack in an open source environment. "It’s a proof point of [a project] being compatible in the Maemo and Moblin environments and you'll see many more of those as time goes by. We had understood the need to develop common technologies and we made a commitment to drive common technologies. We decided it was necessary to have collaboration to develop these technologies and we think that will foster community-driven innovation, foster faster times to market and new business models."

The scope of the current collaboration is much wider and there are still many other areas in which there are no specifics, including device driver models, security and power management (an area Intel will have to address in the x86 architecture given the lack of interest in Menlow for MIDs after reportedly-unacceptable battery performance for mobile devices). It’s not just a matter of what the companies are prepared to say today; it’s clear that there are many places where Intel and Nokia need to finalise the details of their collaboration.

What’s not so clear is why Intel and Nokia chose to announce their plans to partner at such an early stage, when so few concrete details have been decided. It might be to keep up with open source developments like Android and Fennec, or to send Microsoft a message about Windows 8 (currently in the planning stage and expected to run on a wider range of processors than just the x86 architecture; Moblin has been seen as much as a bargaining chip for Intel to use against Microsoft as a platform Intel is truly committed to, especially as the chip manufacturer has been experimenting internally with running Android on netbooks).

According to O’Shea, "we want to tell the industry we're working together on these open source projects to deliver this technology". Intel’s statement that "the open source projects will be governed using the best practices of the open source development model" is promising, but this is a significant undertaking. Maemo doesn’t yet support 3G connections or voice calls; Maemo 5, currently in development, is due to get 3G data, but that runs on ARM rather than x86 and the speculation is that Harmattan will use oFono to add voice at the end of 2010 – which is a long time to wait in the mobile world.

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