ARM backs Linux for consumer devices

The chip designer is joining with major consumer electronics manufacturers to tailor open-source software for running non-PC devices

UK chip designer ARM, whose technology drives most mobile phones and recent handheld computers, said it has joined an organisation promoting the use of Linux in consumer electronics.

ARM on Monday announced it has become an associate member of the Consumer Electronics Linux Forum (CELF), a group founded in June by Matsushita and Sony, which already use Linux in products such as set-top boxes. Motorola, NEC, Samsung, European chipmaker STMicroelectronics and Texas Instruments are also members of the forum. Other members include embedded software makers MontaVista and TimeSys.

Intellectual property sold by ARM is used as the basis for most mobile phone microprocessors, and many PocketPC and Palm OS devices use higher-end ARM-based chips. ARM processors are also used in devices such as set-top boxes and networking equipment.

Linux has been eyed with increasing interest for use in devices outside the PC realm, such as digital video recorders, Internet set-top boxes and mobile phones, attracting companies who see it as stable, inexpensive and free from control by any one company. The software is starting to encroach into the markets held by existing embedded-computing companies such as Wind River Systems, Green Hills Software, and on the turf of newcomers such as Microsoft, which are trying to make their own entrance.

Recognising the momentum of Linux in non-PC devices, Wind River recently added Linux support to its widely used embedded developer tools.

ARM said it has already undertaken work to develop and use embedded Linux on microprocessors based on its cores, but said the software needs more work to fully make the transition from servers and desktops to embedded devices. "ARM is joining a valuable resource in the CELF," said ARM director of operating systems and alliances Mary Inglis, in a statement. "It is part of our long-term support for the Linux platform, and to help bring Linux into products people use everyday."

The company said it would be working on such issues as kernel design, software size constraints, performance rates and power management issues.

According to the embedded-computing analyst firm Venture Development, the total market for embedded-computing software, development tools and services was $1.37bn (£850m) in 2002. Of that, Wind River had the largest share, 17.7 percent, with Microsoft in second place at 11.1 percent. MontaVista was further down the list with 1.2 percent, and TimeSys fit into the "other" category with less than 1 percent.

CNET's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.