Google's Android boosts enterprise mobile Linux

The clout of Google and its partners in the Android mobile platform could finally provide the stable, viable Linux option enterprise IT managers have been waiting for

Google's introduction of its Android device operating system and Open Handset Alliance on Monday could help create just the breed of mobile Linux platform that many enterprise IT managers have been waiting for, industry experts contend.

While IT project leaders hoping to incorporate or build Linux-based applications on handheld devices have long been frustrated by a wild variety of disparate operating systems and fragmented standards efforts, the industry clout brought to the table by Google and its array of partners could spur wider adoption of existing tools along with a new wave of development, according to industry analysts and other market watchers.

With such partners as T-Mobile, HTC, Qualcomm, and Motorola aligned behind its efforts, Google's step into mobile Linux software could provide a more stable, viable option than existing mobile Linux efforts, said observers.

Even though much of the initial focus on the Google Android announcement thus far has been aimed at new consumer applications that may be created based on the OS and the company's partnerships, enterprises that have been hoping to move Linux onto the wireless handset are likely thrilled to see the introduction, experts said.

"We're heard a lot from IT managers about some enterprise-class solutions in areas like e-mail that haven't seen the light of day because there has been no real platform on which to deploy them," said Avi Greengart, analyst with Current Analysis. "Right now, all we have is a press release and a coalition making promises, but the fact that Google is behind this could give it a better chance top succeed than any other efforts we've seen in this space."

The emergence of a more "robust" Linux-based OS at the hands of Google and its partners should trump existing efforts to push the open-source platform into more devices, the analyst said.

None of the other handheld Linux standards groups -- including LiMo Foundation, backed by industry giants Motorola, NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic, Samsung, and Vodafone -- had been able to foster development comparable to Microsoft's Windows Mobile OS or RIM's BlackBerry platform in the enterprise, said Greengart.

By launching its own OS and creating a new standards alliance that won't compete with any of the existing groups, Google may have tilted the mobile Linux landscape for good, he said.

"If your developers are already familiar with the Linux kernel, this is something new and interesting to consider both for third-party and internally-developed applications, said Greengart.

"Eventually, you could see a capability for organizations to customize devices as they see fit to an extent that's not possible today, which could include the creation of custom applications or the use of tools that previously haven't had a place in the enterprise," he said. "They may also fundamentally alter devices before giving them out to employees and change the default applications completely to match the way their companies work."

Companies are excited about the platform but worry about security

Some companies involved directly in the mobile device applications market -- and previous industry efforts backing mobile Linux that Greengart criticized -- agreed that the Google announcement represents a significant opportunity for progress of the open-source platform.

John Bruggeman, chief marketing officer at WindRiver, a maker of so-called device software optimization tools and a member of the LiMo Foundation, said that the entire market should benefit from Google's efforts.

"There are tons of applications developers who want to write applications to a Linux platform and have them live on multiple devices, and this appears to create that opportunity," Bruggemen said.

The greatest barrier to mobile Linux adoption -- and the reason why groups such as LiMo were established -- was the vast number of different flavors of the OS software that have been incorporated in handheld devices thus far with WindRiver counting more than 1,000 different variants, he said.

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