Intel aims to speed Linux gadget development

New site is designed to spur development of OS for improved mobile Web surfing, networking, power management, user interface, more.
Written by Stephen Shankland, Contributor
The iPhone doesn't run Linux, but Intel has begun work to help improve the operating system for future devices of its ilk.

The chipmaker on Monday is launching its Mobile and Internet Linux Project Web site, which consolidates a number of new and existing Intel projects to improve the Linux kernel and other open-source components. In addition, the company employs "quite a bit more than a dozen" programmers for coding work, said Dirk Hohndel, Intel's chief Linux and open-source technologist.

Among the projects are efforts to improve power management, user interfaces, use of wireless networks, Web browsing, chatting, and one of the thorniest subjects, software development for mobile devices. Intel hopes for programming help from outside its own company, and two Linux companies that have signed up are Ubuntu backer Canonical and Red Flag Linux in China.

"We see this as the technology incubator for a lot of things that are going to be productized in three years," Hohndel said. He wouldn't comment on the project's magnitude, but he said, "My internal funding shows that top management is taking this seriously."

It's probably good that Intel is giving itself a few years. Numerous companies have tried to build Linux-based Net gadgets for years, but few have amounted to much. Among the efforts are the Nokia 770 and newer N800, an AOL-Gateway Web appliance, and the Palm Foleo, which so far has had a frosty reception.

Intel is serious about trying to spur the industry so it can sell more chips, though, and devices such as the BlackBerry, Treo and iPhone have certainly proved that there's a market for surfing the Web on a portable device. Intel's current effort to sell hardware for the market includes its Mobile Internet Device project.

One major focus of the Mobile and Internet Linux Project will be improving programming tools. Developers often write and debug software on a regular PC before transferring it to a device or prototype for further testing.

"One of the hardest problems is to get software stacks onto these devices," Hohndel said. "We think this is a major step forward to make it easier to develop."

Intel will be hosting source code and tools such as mailing lists, but it won't actually produce a Linux "distribution"--a unified collection of software.

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