Exclusive: SuSE Linux goes handheld

PocketPC better look out, Linux is making a play for the handheld arena

Suse -- Europe's leading distributor of the Linux operating system -- plans a strong drive towards mobile and embedded computing in coming months, sources said Wednesday.

"There is massive interest in Linux on next generation handhelds like the iPAQ and other high performance handheld devices that have been announced," says the source. "SuSE is planning to use this as its entry point into the embedded market."

The source says that SuSE will use handheld computing as a springboard to reach other areas where software is embedded into hardware and used to power myriad devices. The source also says that SuSE is likely to look for help in getting into handheld computing. "The key factor for the success of such a project is a solid business model around it and a strong strategic partner to get things started," says the source.

"SuSE, in the past, hasn't been one of the leaders in the embedded market. They're probably listening to what an awful lot of people have been saying, that trends are converging and this a lot of opportunities for open source software," says Dan Kuznetzky vice president of systems software research at IDC, alluding to the convergence of wireless technology and handheld computers.

Linux has become a highly successful high-end operating system in recent years, but has yet to make a major impact on the desktop market. It has barely started in the handheld space.

The PDA market is currently dominated by the Palm OS and Microsoft's Pocket PC platform.

Nevertheless, Kuznetzky says Linux is an attractive alternative for manufacturers. Linux is developed under a license that gives any company the right to view and alter its source code and Kuznetzky says that this is a bonus for embedded developers. He says that it is also appropriate because it is scalable and is suited to running server-side applications.

Currently only a few manufacturers have come up with handheld computers and packaged them with Linux. Samsung unveiled the Yopy in May 2000. Established manufacturers including Compaq, HP and IBM are, however, reported to be developing hardware designed to run lightweight versions of Linux.

Kuznetzky suggests SuSE could have a difficult time making up this lost ground but cannot afford to ignore the mobile space any longer.

By contrast to most other leading Linux distributors, SuSE has so far held back from developing for the embedded space. Lineo, a subsidiary of Caldera has been big in this area and Red Hat also has a significant stake in the embedded computing. According to a survey carried out recently by LinuxDevices.com SuSE currently holds a 9.5 percent share of the embedded market.

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