Qualcomm is going to support Linux in its next-generation mobile phone chips - a move that could boost the spread of handsets with high-end computing features.

Such devices, including Research In Motion's BlackBerry and PalmOne's Treo, have become increasingly important to remote workers, and are now driving a comeback in the handheld computing market, according to a Gartner study released this week.

Qualcomm, which created the CDMA mobile phone technology widely used in North America and Asia, said Linux support is now available for the MSM6550 system-on-a-chip, The system powers more than two dozen CDMA handset models, and includes the BREW application development platform.

The integrated chipset eliminates the need for the co-processor usually required for running a high-end operating system, and giving manufacturers a relatively inexpensive smartphone hardware platform, Qualcomm said.

Support will follow for Qualcomm chips using the UMTS, HSDPA and CDMA2000 1x EV-DO Rev. A, the company said.

Linux is the first third-party operating system to get support on Qualcomm's processors, but it won't be the last, the company said. "We are expanding the software development environment of our chipsets to address the growing market interests for Linux as well as other third-party operating systems," said Dr. Sanjay K. Jha, president of Qualcomm CDMA Technologies.

Qualcomm joins such major companies as Motorola and DoCoMo in supporting Linux; Motorola introduced its first Linux-based handset last summer.

The open-source operating system offers the opportunity to lower development costs by collaborating with other software developers. The operating system also lacks the steep licensing fees charged by Symbian and Microsoft, which currently dominate the market for third-party smartphone operating systems. IDC has estimated Linux could control more than 4 percent of the smartphone OS market by the end of next year.