An initiative backed by industry giants Intel and Nokia aims to increase the development and use of open source software in mobile phones.

The vendors have announced that Gnome Mobile & Embedded Initiative (GMAE) would be open to developers, manufacturers and others interested in developing applications based on Gnome components for new mobile devices. Gnome is a free-software project aimed at developing a complete range of desktop applications for Linux and Unix-based operating systems.

The GMAE initiative, which intends to extend this expertise to mobile and embedded devices, "is a good idea," said Nick Spencer, an analyst with Canalys. "The Linux market for mobile devices still has much maturing to do. To get developers interested in building applications for open source operating systems and involved in the standardisation process is a good thing."

At the end of 2006, Linux accounted for only around 6 percent of the market for smart phone operating systems, compared to Symbian's 67 percent market share and Windows Mobile 14 percent, according to Canalys market research. Blackberry had 7 percent and the remaining operating systems, including Palm, had 5 percent.

Although the use of Linux in smart phones is still comparatively low, demand for the open source operating system will increase as more vendors look to move away from older proprietary phone operating systems, according to Spencer. "Demand in Asia is growing very strongly, particularly in China," he said.

The GMAE platform will launch as a subset of the Gnome platform, but GMAE developers plan to expand the platform to enable new features, according. Components under consideration include the Java Mobile & Embedded (JavaME) platform, the GeoClue geolocation service, the PulseAudio audio management function and the Tinymail mobile email system.

In line with Gnome policy, the GMAE platform will be distributed under LGPL (GNU Lesser General Public License) terms, which allow for royalty-free use of the technology but encourages contribution of platform code changes to the Gnome community.