Linux gets Bluetooth

The Linux development kernel now supports wireless 'personal area networks', but ordinary users won't see the software for a while yet

Support for Bluetooth has been added to the Linux development kernel, a step toward native Bluetooth support in upcoming releases of the Linux operating system.

Bluetooth allows PCs, portable devices and peripherals the ability to connect to each other in a "personal area network", potentially replacing the clutter of wires that accompanies most computer systems. Research firm In-Stat/MDR projects that 100 million personal area networks will be installed this year, rising to more than 900 million in 2005.

But while the radio technology has begun to advance in the mobile phone and PDA markets, PCs have been slower to gain native Bluetooth support, partly because it is perceived to compete with wireless LANs. Apple Computer is distributing a beta version of its Bluetooth software, along with a USB Bluetooth adapter, and Microsoft has pledged to offer Bluetooth peripherals, along with native Bluetooth support for Windows XP, later this year.

On 8 May the Linux Bluetooth protocol stack made its debut in version 2.5.14 of the Linux development kernel, in its first non-experimental form. However, so far it is only available in the 2.5 branch of the kernel, which is a development branch, and contains many new and untried features.

End users probably won't see Bluetooth built into a Linux distribution, such as those from Red Hat, SuSE or MandrakeSoft, until the appearance of version 2.6 of the kernel. When the 2.5 branch reaches a certain level of stability, it will turn into version 2.6, and the emphasis will shift to stabilisation. The current stable branch is 2.4. However, users with enough technical expertise will be able to integrate the Bluetooth software into their own distribution before kernel 2.6.

The protocol stack, called BlueZ, was originally a project of Qualcomm before the communications company donated its source code to the open-source world.

It supports the full range of Linux hardware, from embedded devices up to SPARC server processors, and is compatible with a wide variety of PC Bluetooth adapters, cards, dongles and devices like laptops and handheld computers that have built-in Bluetooth hardware.

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