A group of mobile phone companies including Vodafone, DoCoMo, Motorola, Samsung NEC, and Panasonic, have announced plans to collaboratively develop an open, Linux-based operating system for mobile devices. In an attempt to decrease market fragmentation, benefit from community involvement, and avoid the high costs associated with proprietary mobile software solutions, the prominent mobile technology companies hope to facilitate the construction of a complete platform for mobile software development including an API specification, a complete reference implementation, and a comprehensive set of associated development tools.
The highly portable Linux operating system is uniquely conducive to specialization and well suited for deployment on mobile devices. As an open source platform widely used by independent software developers, Linux offers a rare level of versatility as well as the potential for significant community involvement in the development process. The decentralized nature of the Linux platform is also relevant, because it ensures that no single corporation can leverage ownership in anticompetitive ways. A ubiquitous mobile Linux platform could have an equalizing affect on the mobile computing market, reducing barriers to entry by simplifying the process of developing mobile software compatible with a wide selection of hardware. A ubiquitous mobile Linux platform could also empower consumers, enabling mobile technology users to produce their own specialized software for various purposes, and facilitating considerable expansion of the mobile phone software ecosystem.
According to a recent survey conducted by CMP, Linux is currently the most widely used operating system on embedded platforms, with approximately 28 percent of the market. Despite the popularity of Linux in the field of embedded computing, the survey results show that enthusiasm for the open source operating system is starting to diminish and competing products like Windows Mobile and VxWorks are beginning to win back marketshare. A new Linux-based mobile platform supported by a large number of major players could help to consolidate the disparate Linux mobile software market and bring various factions within the mobile Linux development community together under one banner.
Other mobile technology companies have also recently adopted Linux and open source software. Nokia’s 770 web tablet is built on Linux and the GNOME-based Maemo development platform. Nokia has also adopted the open source Webkit framework (derived from Safari and originally Konqueror’s KHTML components) as the basis for the S60 mobile phone web browser. In February, Ars reported on PalmSource’s new Access Linux Platform, a next-generation Linux mobile computing platform that supports legacy Palm applications and uses GNOME components. There are also a few incumbent players in the embedded Linux market, like Trolltech, which provides a mobile version of its popular Qt development platform.
Right now, very few details are available about the specific technologies that will be used for the new Linux platform, but with Maemo, GStreamer, and GNOME all gaining momentum in the mobile Linux arena, those are all good guesses. The emergence of what could potentially become a ubiquitous mobile Linux platform is a very exciting event for open source software developers. Look for additional details in future editions of Linux.Ars as more information is made available.