Mobile Linux: It's not just Android anymore

At this year's Mobile World Congress, Linux is everywhere - including a growing number of non-Android alternatives.

The mobile world has been good to Linux, whose Android derivative has enjoyed a success that few could have predicted just a few short years ago.

And indeed, until very recently, Android was Linux's main contender in the mobile world. Yes, there have been others coming and going--LiMo, Maemo, Moblin, and MeeGo, for example--but none of them have even approached Android in terms of traction.

That's why this year's Mobile World Congress has been so striking. Announcements coming out of the show have made it perfectly clear that mobile Linux's days of being more or less completely dominated by Android are coming to an end.

Android is still going strong, of course--maybe even stronger than ever. But we seem to be entering a new era in which Linux is everywhere in the mobile world, including numerous non-Android alternatives. Here are three key examples.

1. Boot to Gecko

Perhaps most notably, Mozilla--maker of the popular Firefox browser--announced this week the new Open Web Devices platform for smartphones based on its Boot to Gecko (B2G) project. With Boot to Gecko, Mozilla aims to build a complete, standalone operating system for the open Web, and it has put Linux at the heart of that. While B2G uses some of the same low-level building blocks that Android does--including the Linux kernel--it is not based on Android, and deliberately so. With support from Telefónica, Adobe, Deutsche Telekom, and Qualcomm, the Open Web Devices effort promises to bring a new kind of Linux to the mobile world.

2. Tizen

Also coming out of Mobile World Congress 2012 have been not just one but two advances for the competing Tizen platform. Tizen, you may recall, is the Intel-backed open source project launched by the Linux Foundation in September. Since then we've seen a preview of Tizen's source code and we've seen some considerable interest from Samsung; this week, up-and-coming device maker Huawei has jumped on board, and a beta release of the Tizen platform source code and SDK have made their debut.

The beta release features an updated UI framework and Web APIs for easier development of rich Web applications, the Tizen Association says, while the SDK features support for Windows as well as Ubuntu Linux. Huawei, meanwhile, says it plans to create and commercialize Tizen handsets for a range of markets. What that will ultimately mean, of course, is mobile Linux in yet another form.

3. Ubuntu for Android

Speaking of Ubuntu Linux, let's not forget its debut running alongside Android on upcoming smartphones. Offering a full desktop experience when the mobile device is docked, Ubuntu for Android will come preloaded along with Google's platform on participating smartphones. That's nothing short of a double dose of Linux on a single device.

Then, of course, there's also Linux-based webOS, which appears to be marching along nicely, with a brand-new browser being added earlier this month. I haven't heard any webOS news coming out of Mobile World Congress--it won't be fully open sourced until September, after all--but it's another one that's definitely worth watching.

Either way, I think it's really interesting to see how Linux is spreading throughout the mobile world.

Apple's iOS currently accounts for 54 percent of the mobile/tablet operating system market, according to Net Applications' January data, while Android claims 18 percent. I can't wait to see how things look in another year or two.

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Katherine Noyes

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