Opinion: Mobile Linux for Bluetooth - spanner for Microsoft?

Call Microsoft, ask it about Bluetooth and it makes some very odd excuses. Not so the Linux camp -- they know a good thing when they see it. Bluetooth guru Marc Ambasna-Jones explains...

The Calcaria Linux7K project (or Linux CL-PS7110) to develop a mobile version of the operating system will shake a few feathers, not least if it embeds the short range radio frequency connectivity technology Bluetooth into its code.

This would make Linux an even more attractive proposition for the growing number of portable PC devices on the market. No surprise then that Psion and GeoFox are supporting the project that had its infancy within the walls of RedHat. The thought of a mobile version of Linux with embedded Bluetooth is a little daunting particularly for the Microsoft camp.

It's no secret Microsoft wants to get its CE platform on to more mobile devices. Recent announcements indicate the software giant is putting a lot of push behind the OS, which so far has failed to impress. The widespread movement towards wireless connectivity is now driving the immediate future of these devices and Microsoft has been slow to formerly support any wireless technology for CE, although it is starting to make a few noises in both the Bluetooth and HomeRF camps.

Of course, Microsoft's traditional muscling of markets will have a role to play, regardless of when it accepts and implements support for a wireless standard. The Linux 7K project however, may throw a spanner into the works.

Mobile Linux will undoubtedly follow the same path as its desktop brother -- the code will be freely distributed while RedHat will shrink-wrap it for its OEM partners. This may attract more device manufacturers. The breadth of applications is not quite as important as a desktop and therefore the mobile Linux will be in a better position to level the playing field with Microsoft's CE.

Andrew Till, Psion's technology strategist, is convinced that a mobile version of Linux will be successful, particularly as the operating system is being designed to soak up much less power than other portable OSs. "I don't see any limitation with Bluetooth. It's just a matter of waiting for mobile devices with embedded Bluetooth technology and then letting the developers design the software for it. There is a great opportunity there for Linux, especially if Microsoft doesn't embed the Bluetooth code in its CE software."

Calcaria project worker Paul Maddox said that given the demand from the device vendors, "it is highly likely Linux7k will grow to use Bluetooth." He added there is a "lot of interest in the channel for Bluetooth capabilities in mobile Linux," but said that the Linux7K development team was more concerned with the OS kernel at the moment.

So any implementation of Bluetooth is well down the pecking order, but at least Calcaria is prepared to talk about it. Microsoft has been cagey about Bluetooth to say the least and has made no formal announcements, rather blaming an unlikely manpower shortage at the company as a reason for its perceived hesitancy. But Microsoft has given away clues about its interest in Bluetooth, particularly at its WinHEC developers conference last month. The Redomond team told developers it has no plans to include Bluetooth support in its forthcoming Windows 2000 OS but did offer encouragement over further investigation into the technology. Few surprises there then.

The bottom line is that Microsoft, already fighting with Symbian's EPOC 32 operating system for the mobile device market, will also have to fight off competition from Linux. It's not really a matter of if but when. Of course, Microsoft does have an advantage in that its CE platform is already on the market and can offer seamless integration with desktop applications. It depends on the device and it depends on the user requirements.

Having lots of mini Windows desktops running around may not suit everyone and this is where the competition will step. It's more a matter of what will be the killer mobile device. Maybe it will be PDAs, media phones, or the humble mobile phone. Either way, Linux will stand a good chance of getting market share purely on the basis of the widespread interest it generates. This can only be a good thing for the mobile device market, Bluetooth and ultimately Microsoft's anti-trust case with the DoJ.

Take me to the Bluetooth special