LinuxWorld: Linux gets Bluetoothed

The penguin loses its wires

Bluetooth -- the short-wave radio technology designed to replace cables -- is just beginning to trickle onto the market in Europe, but at the LinuxWorld show in New York a number of vendors are showing off wireless new hardware running the Linux operating system.

One of the main driving forces behind making Linux wireless is its development structure. Because the operating system is open source, manufacturers can quickly customise solutions to meet their specific needs. At the IBM stand a prototype watch running Linux and capable of making a Bluetooth connection to access the Web is being shown off.

Chandra Narayanaswami, manager of wearable computing solutions at IBM, says that open source software such as Linux is ideally suited to this type of project, making it possible to develop wireless solutions at speed. "The source code is available, so you can understand and modify it," he says. "When you have Linux you can develop the drivers yourself. With Windows, you have to wait for the drivers."

Narayanaswami predicts Linux will power many devices that rely on wireless connectivity. "A lot of companies are looking at Linux for information appliances, that's where wireless becomes important."

One company that is looking to put Linux onto this sort of appliance is Transvirtual, which has created PocketLinux, a version of Linux designed for handheld computers. Vice president of marketing Tony Fader agrees that Linux has a lot going for it in this area. At LinuxWorld Transvirtual is displaying a Compaq iPaq handled computer running Linux and connected to the Internet using a wireless LAN card. "The rate of driver production is accelerated by open source," says Fader. "Companies are making sure a [Linux] port is available before they launch."

Linux is fast becoming established as a serious force in all areas of embedded computing, due to its unrestrictive development culture and negligible software licensing costs. Manufacturers say that this will also help to drive Linux within the wireless space because these companies are keen to make all manner of devices -- from home network routers to PDA's -- wireless.

A more outlandish example of wireless Linux is the BlueCat Linux standard. The company is showing its embedded Linux software communicating with a Windows CE handheld using Bluetooth to control a robot arm. Product marketing manager John Johannesmeyer says the growth of Bluetooth and Linux will go hand in hand. "Embedded Linux is making a huge impact, and wireless is an extension of that," he says. "Bluetooth is going to be everywhere."

Embedded Linux company Lineo is demonstrating a Linux based router running Embedix, its flavour of embedded Linux designed for home and small office use. Vice president for sales Peter Cronk says Lineo is keen to build in Bluetooth capability because it is such a snitch to do. "The code is nimble, light and robust... With Bluetooth all you have to do is change one piece of hardware."

There are several companies at the show running Linux on servers designed for home or small office use -- including Serve Linux and and Celestix -- which say that implementing Linux is far more cost-effective than Windows software. They all are capable of wireless networking.

Growth in this area has not gone unnoticed by the analyst community. A study from research group IDC produced last year predicted that the wireless Linux market could be worth $300bn by 2002.

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