Linux set to make mobile splash

Executive director of Linux Foundation speaks at conference; obstacles to mobile Web also aired

Linux is set to make a major impact in the mobile computing realm, the executive director of the Linux Foundation stressed at a conference Monday morning.

Speaking at the Open Mobile Exchange portion of the O'Reilly Open Source Conference (OSCON) in the US, Jim Zemlin, executive director of the foundation, touted the trends and technologies pushing Linux into a leadership position in mobile systems. He was followed by Jason Grigsby, Web strategist at mobile and Web design firm Cloud Four, who emphasized the coming influence of the mobile Web but countered that developers are not yet ready for it.

Zemlin said Linux has emerged as a primary platform, even on the desktop. Meanwhile, it also has spread to devices such as gas pumps and medical equipment. Additionally, it is being deployed in Wall Street trading, in consumer electronics, and on Mars in space-based equipment.

"It's clear that Linux is going to be a leader in the mobile space," he said.

Linux, according to Zemlin, offers a unified product platform, flexibility, and a software stack. It also has experienced an increase in the volume of software content, with the lines of Linux handset code doubling every year.

"Really, what's happening in mobile is instead of having a hardware-up approach, you're starting to see a software-down approach," with the software experience driving the mobile marketplace, he said.

By supporting Linux, developers do not have to contend with compatibility issues of supporting different platforms. The industry wants to get away from that, he said.

"It's just a nightmare to support all these different OSes and try to maintain some degree of compatibilty," Zemlin said.

Different middleware packages and application development frameworks are available for Linux. "There's a huge freedom to mix the core Linux kernel," he said.

Business drivers for Linux include reduced deployment costs, room to differentiate, and an ecosystem of development around phone platforms. "It's obviously a royalty-free platform. That's a huge business driver," said Zemlin.

"Linux really allows device manufacturers and new people to come in and create their own brand," he said.

Symbian's move to open source has had a negative impact on Windows, leaving it the only royalty-based mobile platform, said Zemlin.

Linux application development is starting to coalesce around initiatives such as Google's Android and LiMo (Linux Mobile Foundation), he said. Other Linux efforts are afoot such as Openmmoko, to create a smartphone platform, and Ubuntu Mobile, said Zemlin.

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