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Motorola

(MOT)

plans to build high-end cellphones with Linux software, sidestepping efforts to collaborate with a coalition of phone industry allies it helped form five years ago.

Motorola's first Linux-based handset, the A760, is expected to ship in the Asia-Pacific region in the third quarter. Besides handling phone calls, the handset will enable users to send and receive data, view videos, shoot pictures and listen to music.

Linux is a freely available operating system that is supported by a community of software developers. It has gained acceptance among a wide range of technology companies.

IBM

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recently told investors it plans to help create handheld computers that run Linux. Likewise,

NEC

is reportedly planning on building a handset based on Linux.

It's a peculiar move for Motorola, considering that the Schaumburg, Ill., handset maker appears to be walking away from a cell-phone software coalition it helped create. In 1998 Motorola helped form a phone software joint venture called Symbian, which included competitors-turned-allies including

Nokia

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and

Sony Ericsson

. The venture was designed initially to stave off threats from

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Microsoft

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, which had signaled intentions to enter the crowded wireless phone market.

"I'd call it a lack of a vote of confidence

in Symbian," said Deutsche Bank Securities wireless-equipment analyst Brian Modoff. "It's clearly something where Motorola wants to do their own thing and try to use standards. It could be an issue where they want to support an open standard and not tie themselves."

Separately, Nokia has attempted to rally handset makers around a version of the Symbian operating system created with a graphical user interface that it designed. Called the Series 60, the company has managed to attract several handset makers, among them

Samsung

and

Matsushita

, to build new phones based on its software.

Motorola executives said the company's decision to throw its weight behind Linux instead of Symbian wasn't about snubbing allies, but about how well its devices will run Java, the software language developed by

Sun Microsystems

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. Software applications, such as games written in the Java language, can theoretically run on any device.

"This is not about being anti-something, but pro-openness," said Motorola's vice president of applications, Joe Coletta, who played down the appearance of dissent. "As we look at the industry, we look at it evolving towards open standards."

Coletta said the company remains a shareholder in Symbian, but said it has no current plans to develop new Symbian devices, unless its wireless carrier customers request it.

Regardless, the industry has bigger problems than strategic one-upsmanship. Over the last few months, consumers have been buying mainly lower-priced basic handsets, despite a spate of higher-end, feature-filled phones debuting late last year. "There's an oversupply relative to demand," said Deutsche Bank's Modoff. "Consumers aren't responding to high-end phones like manufacturers had hoped for."

Yankee Group analyst John Jackson said, "The smart-phone category will continue to represent an extremely small percent of overall

phone sales volume."

Investors shrugged off the news, as Motorola shares were flat at $8 in afternoon trading.