If you follow the tech industry at all, you're familiar with the practice of foundation formation. That's when a group of companies agrees to meet, greet, have coffee, maybe a little nosh, and, oh yeah, come up with some standards for future devices -- maybe even write a little software together.

One of the latest knitting circles is devoted to developing Linux for mobile devices, especially phones. The group includes some heavyweights like Motorola (NYSE:MOT), Vodafone (NYSE:VOD), and NTT DoCoMo (NYSE:DCM), as well as Asian powerhouses like NEC and Samsung.

The odd thing is that there are already two similar bodies devoted to the same goal, the Linux Phone Standards Forum and the Mobile Linux Initiative. Moreover, many of the above-named manufacturers already sell phones with Linux-driven operating systems. MontaVista provides one of the better known of these, but there are oodles of others out there.

It's easy to see why these firms would want a little clarity, of course. Linux is a big grower in the smartphone biz. As of late last summer, Linux operating systems were already running 14% of those phones, while Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Mobile had less than 5% -- a share about equivalent to that held by Palm OS. (And remember, the Palm OS, now owned by PalmSource, is also going to be Linux-ized one of these days.)

But followers of the space will also note that some of those manufacturers have previously sworn fealty to the Symbian smartphone OS, which is operated and favored by Nokia (NYSE:NOK), Ericcson (NASDAQ:ERICY), and others. With three quarters of the market, Symbian is still the runaway market share leader in the smartphone space these days, although with so many of the industry biggies looking to Linux, that may soon change.

So, what should investors make of this? It seems to me the mess is the story. What we have here looks like yet another attempt to herd cats -- a fairly difficult chore, for those who haven't gotten on a horse and tried.

Like most others out there, I believe that telephony, PDA-type applications, messaging, and mobile media functions are going to continue converging on a single gadget, and a biosphere of varying operating interfaces (Linux or not) won't help the hardware makers win fans. Let's face it: No one really cares what the underlying OS is.

So, as manufacturers squabble and attempt to create a common Linux operating system -- yet again -- I'm betting the folks in Redmond are smiling. Microsoft already scored a nice win with Motorola's sleek new Q -- the device that's supposed to kill Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry. The Q also shows that Motorola is hedging its bets on the OS front.

Mobile, of course, is still a money-loser for Microsoft, but if the competition can't get it together, Mr. Softy may see the divide-and-conquer plan work out as well in our pockets as it did on our desktops.

Microsoft and Vodafone are recommendations of Motley Fool Inside Value . To see why our cheap stock guru thinks Mr. Softy has what it takes to deliver for investors, a free trial is available.

Seth Jayson is Jonesing for a Q, but he's stuck with some crummy Nokia for another few months. At the time of publication, he had shares of Microsoft but no positions in any other company mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.