Ubuntu's Shuttleworth: mobile Linux stalled by proprietary lock on industry, lack of neutral Linux platform

Linux has not made significant strides in the mobile space because the industry is still too tightly controlled by proprietary manufacturers and and too contested by Linux rivals, Canonical’s Mark Shuttleworth maintains.

Linux has not made significant strides in the mobile space because the industry is still too tightly controlled by proprietary manufacturers and and too contested by Linux rivals, Canonical’s Mark Shuttleworth maintains.

In an interview with Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin posted last night, the creator of Ubuntu – whose recently launched Ubuntu Mobile Edition is expected to debut on Intel handsets this year-- said he expects Linux will eventually dominate in the mobile space but suffers today under the weight of powerful proprietary handset manufacturers and network operators, as well as the lack of a unified front among competing Linux interests.

Aside from the longstanding Nokia and Microsoft battle in the mobile OS space, competing Linux efforts such as Google’s Android, LiMo, LIPS, OpenMoko makes it difficult for the open source OS to gain steam, Shuttleworth told the Linux Foundation. In Dana Blankenhorn's earlier blog about the interview, Shuttleworth pointed out how important trust relationship sare to the success of any open source project.

“I think at this stage each of them, and including possibly our own, are too strongly aligned with a particular company or a particular product or a particular brand. If you look at the mobile telephone market, we have a couple of very, very powerful companies who control either big chunks of the handset manufacture or the billing and sort of customer management side of things and the operators, the networking side of things. And as a result, it’s very difficult for folks to work in an open way across the industry,” said Shuttleworth.

“If you look at the PC industry, that’s not true at all. It’s possible to do work enabling the PC or the server market and do that in an open way and work with all of the major companies and the long tail.” he added. “In the mobile environment that’s very, very difficult.”

Efforts to create a standard, community-driven mobile OS – such as Psion Symbian -- have largely failed, and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile has failed to “ignite” interest, Shuttleworth added.

“If you look at the names that you mentioned there, they generally all have a big corporate sponsor who may well be trying to create a community, they would call it, around their platform, but the folks who are aligned with their competitors would be hesitant to jump into that community,” the Canonical leader said, likening the Psion Symbian effort as little more than a Nokia project.

The window of opportunity is still there for Linux but what is lacking is a neutral platform around which the entire community can rally. Not surprisingly, Shuttleworth proferred Ubuntu Mobile as a possible solution.

"I think what is going to be important is to try and find sort of neutral forums. I think the Ubuntu mobile forum is fairly neutral. You know, obviously that’s aligned with Ubuntu and it’s aligned with Canonical, but we’re not a significant player, you know, either in consumer electronics or in the nature of operator or in the handset manufacture thing.”

So, to a certain extent, we are independent of the entrenched interests," Shuttleworth added. "Whether it’s us or whether it’s some sort of other organization, I do think we need to find the neutral forums of the mobile Linux space and they don’t really exist at the moment. Well, certainly none has emerged as the strongest contender there."

Linux runs on Motorola's Razr handset today and will gain momentum in the mobile cell phone market -- but only if a neutral OS platform is achieved, he said.

"Linux as a whole ... is very clearly on a trajectory to be the emerging platform of choice. So, my sense is that if you just stop at Linux, that that will be by far the dominant platform," Shuttleworth claims. "Motorola talks about 60% of their future devices running Linux. I suspect the number will go higher as soon as people see that it works well at 60% and I’m not sure that there isn’t a natural cap on where it could get," he said."

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