Backed by Intel, Ubuntu, Google, mobile linux is poised for commercial takeoff in 2008

Backed by Intel, Ubuntu, Google, mobile linux is poised for commercial takeoff in 2008

Summary: The momentum behind mobile Linux is accelerating because several communities -- and commercial giants -- are finally backing it.Despite earlier efforts from pioneering companies like MontaVista, Lineo and Access, the open source operating system has always taken a back seat to proprietary mobile operating systems such as Nokia-backed Symbian, Microsoft's Windows Mobile, RIM's Blackberry and Apple's MacOSX for the iPhone.


The momentum behind mobile Linux is accelerating because several communities -- and commercial giants -- are finally backing it.

Despite earlier efforts from pioneering companies like MontaVista, Lineo and Access, the open source operating system has always taken a back seat to proprietary mobile operating systems such as Nokia-backed Symbian, Microsoft's Windows Mobile, RIM's Blackberry and Apple's MacOSX for the iPhone. 

I've wondered why. Linux seemed to have all the right ingredients for mobile devices: small footprint, lower power consumption, flexibility and extensibility. Still, year after year, it stumbled.

The mood changed in 2007. Linux had firmly established credibility on the server and desktop and mobile Linux was the next frontier. The first phones based on OpenMoko open source Linux hit the streets. Palm switched to Linux.  Several mobile Linux organizations  -- Intel's, Motorola-led LiMO and Google's Open Handset Alliance -- launched.

Now, the fruits of those labors are coming to market (not all) and in a relatively short amount of time we'll find out how much of a disruptive effect that Linux will have on the mobile market.

As one CNET writer reported on today, Intel emphasized the success of its Mobile & Internet Linux Project at its developers conference in Shanghai and indicated that  Lenovo, Toshiba, Panasonic and LG Electronics will begin shipping Linux based Mobile Internet Devices later this quarter. Intel has backed Linux exclusively as the OS for MIDs based on its new Atom processors. Rising star Canonical has said that Ubuntu will support Intel's MID and Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth has been vocal about the need for Linux backers to cooperate on the mobile front.

And earlier this week, the LiMO Foundation -- with Motorola, NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic Mobile, Samsung and Vodafone as founding members -- announced availability of its first standard mobile Linux platform, LiMo Platform Release 1. OEMs are preparing to release handsets based upon the platform, such as those demonstrated at the  Mobile Congress last month. 

Nokia's acquisition of Trolltech, a LiMO backer, also brings excitement amidst caution. As part of its buyout offer for the open source company in January, Nokia pledged to continue to support open source as part of its "cross platform" strategy for mobile devices.

Perhaps the most notable event this year: the software industry's sexiest player -- Google -- announced plans to develop a Linux-based mobile software platform dubbed "Android.  At the November launch, Google announced availability of the Android software development kit and the formation of the Open Handset Alliance. 

Android is based on the Linux kernel and includes the operating system, middleware, user interface and Firefox based browser. Several vendors showed off early implementations at Mobile World Congress 2008 in February and the first phones based on Android are planned to be ready in the second half of 2008. The work on Android is far from finished, as CNET reports today, but the excitement about it in 2008 rivals only that generated by Apple's storied iPhone last year.

Other Linux-based mobile groups have made significant progress on plans outlined in 2007.

In July, OpenMoko launched its first smartphone for developers use, the Neo1973, went on sale.  But the real test is coming -- soon.

The OpenMoko company and open source project, ( which spun off as a separate operation of its Taiwanese parent company,  plans to launch its first consumer smartphone based on Linux -- called the FreeRunner --this spring. Rumor has it in April.  Anyway, the Linux smartphone -- which uses the Linux kernel, GNU C library, X Windows and GTK+ toolkit, will feature a 500 Mhz processor, WiFi, motion sensors,  2D/3D graphics rendering capabilities, an oval form-factor and 2.8-inch touchscreen.

Then there's the Linux Phone Standard Forum, LiPS, which was founded in 2005 by ACCESS, ARM, France Telecom and others. The forum  published its first API in June of 2007. In December of 2007, the first LiPS Release 1.0 specification was published as promised. The LIPS specification includes a reference model, telephony, messaging, calendaring and scheduling, presence, the user interface service, address book and voice call enabler APIs.

It will be interesting to see which companies develop services and applications based on LiPS in 2008.

All of these developments undercore the importance of community-driven development and cooperation. It helps to have big names like Google, Intel and Motorola in the mobile Linux game but open source projects need a village to get rolling.

Topics: Mobility, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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  • Yup, iiiitttttt'sssss showtime !!!!

    Even Labour and the Conservatives in the UK are fighting for the moral high ground on who "gets" FOSS the most !!!!!

    Could it be the end of multi-billion failed backhander driven American Corp based UK govt projects? Let's see .....
    • Exactly...

      I don't know much about mobiles, but I do like it when M$ gets kicked in the balls or starts being ignored by everyone. The sooner M$ becomes irrelevant, the better.
      Don Collins
  • Already done

    MS is already done in the mobile arena.

    I've used Windows Mobile but the Debian-based Internet Tablet OS running on my Nokia N800 is far more robust, stable, powerful, and is significantly faster.

    With Windows (all versions) MS decides what you get to work with. With Linux, companies and individuals are free to mold it into exactly what they need/want it to be.

    Although the Eee PC is supposedly capable of running WinXP I wouldn't recommend it. I have a friend who replaced the installed Xandros Linux with XP and he tells me it's now so slow that it's almost painful to use.

    MS is already way behind when it comes to mobile devices.

    Now the hardware manufacturers are in control with Linux. They get control to decide what software to use with their devices instead of being subservient to MS. This is why we see companies like Intel putting so much time, effort, and money into mobile Linux.

    The Windows UI is no longer ubiquitous. In the 90s it was Windows or some CLI. Now people are accustomed to a varitey of different UIs. From the UIs presented by their Tivos, GPS nav systems, etc... Most people can be immediately productive using the intuitive UIs of mobile devices such as a N800 or a Eee PC. The Windows UI no longer has a lock on the minds of consumers.
    Tim Patterson
    • Must be frustrating

      To so badly *need* stuff like this to be true and for it to never happen time and time again.

      There are so many hurdles left to Mobile Linux, not the least of which is "who needs it", but there is a good chance it can manage to carve out some sort of niche in the space. By far the most common phone is still the basic BREW flavor, so everyone can still play.

      You seem to have lots of theories on why MSFT shouldnt be successful. Do you have any on why despite that they continue to be? Windows Mobile has actually been *picking up* momentum here on planet earth.

      And btw, hardware manufacturers have lots of say in Win Mobile implementations. Some argue that this is where Win Mobile has TROUBLE compared to offerings from Apple and Nokia. Hardware manufacturers have shown time and time again that they dont really have a lot to add to the experience. They need an expert *software team* to guide them and I dont see hardware manufacturers absorbing the cost of building one out just to do Linux. There just isnt a big reason to do that when they are already making plenty of money with Palm, WM, OSX, Symbian and even BREW.

      But go ahead and keep predicting that of all of those, only WINDOWS is doomed because now the whole world will go Linux. I'm sure you're an expert.
      • And just who is it that "needs" this to be true.

        If anyone needs anything it appears the phone makers need an answer to the Iphone. Windows mobile by the looks of things isn't it.

        I know some of ya'll want to ride MS forever but things do change. Remember you have really just been riding a lack of competition.
      • No "need"

        What does need have to do with it?
        I'm talking about the best solution for me and it isn't Windows.

        I am however thrilled to see freedom and choice replacing the single vendor lock-in model of the past.
        Tim Patterson
  • Conclusion seems flawed

    How does this wishful thinking piece validate the importance of "the village"?

    If anything, it once again points out how Open Source is a lost sheep without commercial entities to drive it and give SOME kind of guidance and structure.

    The whole point of the article is that Mobile Linux might FINALLY find success because FINALLY real commercial entities seem to be getting behind it, yet the conclusion is "SEE! power to the people! OSS can be successful without needing big bad corporations!"

    Seems silly.
  • IPhone, Linux Mobile...Death For Windows Mobile

    The sooner the better.
  • Finally? Are you guys asleep at the wheel?!?!

    Intel and Google have ALWAYS backed Linux. You guys are nuts to believe that this is anything new. Gees! Where'd all the REAL tech reporters go?!?!?!
  • Great, but I'm a prisoner of AT T

    But I'm a prisoner of ATT.
    Are the telecomm companies who've locked up their networks going to allow access to these devices?
    • Apparently, AT&T now unlocked

      Apparently, AT&T now allows unlocked GSM devices on their networks:

      (Down the page on the press release): "AT&T allows any unlocked GSM device that operates on 850 or 1900 MHz frequency on its network, and there is no minimum term commitment required."

      What I'm iffy on is how many of the new devices are GSM and what the future of GSM is. AT&T claims that their GSM infrastructure will support 4G services on GSM devices, but I don't know enough about it to know if this is just empty propaganda.
    • Sure ...

      ... if those devices are sold by the companies providing their phones today. Are they likely to trust Linux-based products from some start-up though? Not so much!

      You don't have to sell the 'cellcos' on Linux, you have to sell their suppliers - the guys making the phones/smartphones themselves.
      M Wagner
  • Wot Integrated Product Stack...?

    Don't be lured into thinking that a mobile flavour of anything is going to challenge MS's integrated product stack. It's a start but a long cry from having an integrated office suite that can combine with a mail / calendar server, reverese-proxy server, with a secure collaborative environment. (Anyone with an Exchange server that bought Blackberry infrastructure should be instantly dismissed for gross incompetence!)

    Techies always assume that it's just some code to integrate. That's neither sustainable nor responsive to the business's needs.

    I long for the day when the Linux community can start focussing on the business need and provide some real competition... but this is headed in the right direction.
    David Gale
  • RE: Backed by Intel, Ubuntu, Google, mobile linux is poised for commercial takeoff in 2008

    I don't know. For me I use Linux wherever I can but with my use of Pocket PCs I have thought that Windows Mobile was the one place MS got it right.
    Small footprint compared to desktop Windows, fast compared to desktop windows but with 100% integration with the desktop windwos platform.
    Heck they gave the development software away free as well.
    I rarely if ever suggest a windows product but in a world where business desktops are mostly windows and with Mobile so much better then pretty much everything else available especially when people want to carry crackberries, common.
    Now if Linux systems become available that can integrate as well with desktop linux as Mobile does with desktop Windows (I have 2 desktop Linux systems, A desktop Windows and a laptop with Windows and a laptop with linux) and it works as well as my Windwos mobile (and it will have to work with my IRDA keyboard as well, I like a full sized keyboard at times even when camping) and it works with the Data providers here, at evdo speeds then I will switch. I would love to drop Desktop Windows and mobile if I could but until I can move everything to Linux and it works, I can't.
  • Linux is code typing entry

    It's not click and run.Intel and Google must be this code stuff too.
  • RE: Backed by Intel, Ubuntu, Google, mobile linux is poised for commercial

    Linux: Ubuntu

    I have been using Ubuntu for 14 days. I am now using it about 90 % of the time. I have implemented WINE but find it seems to ?run into a wall? quite often. My major issue with Linux has nothing to do with the Linux world. The makes of computer devices do not support the easy installation of drivers with any operating system except Windows. Here I am referring to Linksys's device WUSB54ag. This is a USB network interface device.

    If WINE were stronger it could be used to bring the drive across the language interface. much good work has been done since my last look at Linux.

    Rick Johnson
    • Wireless

      When considering wireless adapters look for hardware using Ralink chipsets. Ralink has released Linux drivers under the GPL and they work flawlessly.<P>

      One issue I found with Ubuntu specifically is that Ubuntu automatically install a broken driver for the rt73 chipset. The installed rt73usb module must be blacklisted and the vanilla rt73 module must used.<p>

      If your existing wireless adapter is closed source and only a Windows driver is available (thanks to the shortsighted or lazy manufacturer) I guess you have to decide if you are going to allow that one piece of hardware to lock you in to Windows.<p>

      If you look around you can find a USB wireless adapter using a Ralink chipset for under 30 dollars.<p>

      If your distro of choice doesn't support the Ralink chipset automagically then you can find the drivers <a href="">here.</a>
      Tim Patterson
    • try ndiswrapper not Wine

      If you have only been a Linux user for 14 days, then you are excused. There are network driver work arounds for this situation, one of them is "ndiswrapper". It's a clever trick which "wraps" the MS driver and makes it usable. Check it out with
  • If the EeePC is anything to go by

    ... then Linux is ready for mobile. I decided that the EeePC I bought was not going to be a direct replacement for a laptop, but to see if it would do the things I want whilst travelling.

    I had to fixe the Remote Desktop client which has a few issues, but a helpful blog gave the instructions for that.

    Although a bit "Mickey Mouse" the tabbed screens and desktop icons do achieve the objective of allowing you to find the key applications fairly quickly.

    So it really comes down to the ease of use of the applications.

    Open Office is fine - in fact for most people, it is probably easier to use than Office 2007 unless you are a power user.

    The media handling is file - not especially important to me, but is to much of this market.

    So that leaves how I replace Outlook in cached Exchange mode over HTTP (which is what gives me transparent email, and was probably the most useful advance Office made in the last 10 years). Answer is the PIM - run it in disconnected IMAP mode and it does pretty much the same.

    So I think that mobile Linux is ready; as the EeePC shows, it can be "skinned" to give an easier user interface for the basic desktop. This is a must for mobile Linux if products are going to be able to cope with small screens and to differentiate themselves. In some respects, the desktop on the EeePC is more like a large mobile phone screen.

    The main application that needs to be improved is Rdesktop - after all, provided your router and firewall are set up correctly, you can then use the mobile device to access your home computer (I am still working on getting WOL - Wake On LAN - to work over the internet).
  • Mobile Linux may be poised and ready but ...

    The question isn't whether or not Linux is ready for mobile markets. The question is whether or not Linux VENDORS are ready to 'take-on' Microsoft, Palm, RIM, Symbian, and Apple while this market segment is still lucrative.

    Linux vendors have all but given up the commodity desktop market to Microsoft. Why? Because their is more money to be made in the machine room selling servers.

    The mobile market is still lucrative and opportunities abound for Linux but a commitment from Linux vendors to put their efforts into developing robust, highly integrated solutions is required if Linux is to compete in this marketplace.
    M Wagner