Sony, Matsushita developing Linux for AV devices

Japan's two largest consumer electronics companies, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., better known as Panasonic, and Sony Corp. have begun joint development of a version of the Linux operating system for digital consumer electronics devices, they said Wednesday.

The announcement stands to speed the entry of Linux into the consumer electronics space, where it already has begun to make inroads -- not just because Japan's top two players will be jointly working on the system but also because they have secured basic support from a number of other major consumer electronics makers.

"Linux itself is very good and a well accepted operating system but it has some points that need to be overcome for it to be applied to digital consumer electronics products such as the start-up time or real time performance," said Shinji Obana, a spokesman for Tokyo's Sony. "These examples could be said to be short-comings of Linux so we are going to develop (the OS) further."

The two companies plan to development a new version of the Linux operating system for consumer electronics products from the kernel level up, said Akira Kadota, a spokesman for Osaka-based Matsushita. Their initial goal is to complete the first step of development work before the middle of 2003.

Sony and Matsushita decided to work on improving Linux in part to cut development costs, because the OS is open-source, and also because they can make use of some of the many Linux developers worldwide and further save money and time, said Obana.

The two companies are also considering establishing a forum consisting of other companies from the consumer electronics and computer sectors. A number of companies have already expressed basic support for the idea including Hitachi Ltd., IBM Corp., NEC Corp., Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Sharp Corp.

While a firm commitment has not yet been made by the companies "they are basically affirmative," said Kadota.

Sony and Sharp have already released products that bring Linux from the world of the desktop computer or server to a position nearer consumers. Sony's Cocoon hard disk drive-based video recorder is based on Linux as are the three latest Zaurus PDAs to be launched in Japan by Sharp Corp.

Sony's video recorder is based on Montavista Linux, a version of the operating system for embedded devices. Both Sony and Matsushita hold stakes in Montavista Software Inc., alongside IBM, Toshiba Corp., Intel Corp. and others. Despite their stakes, Montavista is not included in the work already under way, said Obana, who also declined to comment on whether the Sunnyvale, California, company would be participating.

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