ARM Lends a Hand to Form Mobile Linux Initiative

Research forecasts that Linux will be the top operating system for mobile computing began to look a little more fully baked with the announcement by ARM that it will collaborate with six vendors to finesse a standards-based, Linux-based platform for next-generation mobile devices.

The company, known for its 16/32-bit RISC microprocessors, graphics processors and high-speed connectivity products, announced the news at its annual developers’ conference in Santa Clara, Calif. The collaboration’s targeted outcomes are “always-on” connected mobile devices, ARM said.

Vendor Matchmakers

“It’s clear people are excited that we’ve brought all of these companies together to work on this from the both the semiconductor and software sides,” Bob Morris, ARM’s director of platform enablement, connected mobile computing, told LinuxInsider.

The six vendors are MontaVista, Texas Instruments, Movial, Marvell, Samsung, and Mozilla.

Why these six vendors? “This collaboration is targeted at the smartphone market and those invested in connected mobile computing. We just targeted the leaders in this space,” Morris said.

ABI Research has forecast that Linux will be the fastest-growing OS over the next five years with a compound annual growth rate topping 75 percent by 2012.

Challenging the Dominant Force

“There is a very real opportunity for Linux-based mobile devices to be deployed in greater numbers than today’s PC. It certainly levels the playing field with respect to the Microsoft monopoly on the desktop,” Jim Ready, CTO and founder of MontaVista Linux, told LinuxInsider.

“The sheer numbers help ensure the Internet remains an open environment, not dominated by one commercial OS company and its proprietary ways,” Ready said.

The goal is to reach as many people in as many ways as the group can, Morris said.

“Our focus is on creating a platform that a lot of people are going to be able to leverage,” he said. “The heart of this announcement is to be able to rapidly enable a large number of our partners to deliver compelling systems that are open source-based.”

MontaVista’s Contribution

Among the contributors, MontaVista is a familiar name as a company behind the brains of a Linux operating system optimized for mobile devices.

“MontaVista will do for this collaboration what we have done so successfully over the last eight years: supply a robust, production quality operating system, based on Linux, that supplies the capability that device makers need to build an ultra-mobile device,” said Ready.

Last month, MontaVista announced that its beefed-up Mobilinux 5.0 will be available in November. The release will enable manufacturers to deliver new mobile devices — such as phone handsets, GPS devices, portable medical devices and wireless point-of-sale terminals — to consumers more quickly and with new functions, fast performance, NSA-level security, and battery-extending power management.

“We identified, along with a couple of key MontaVista customers, that a commercial-grade Linux, such as our Mobilinux, could offer a real alternative to the proprietary operating system for mobile handsets,” he said. In extending the reach of mobile technologies, “we can envision the day of hundreds of millions of these kind of devices in operation making calls and using the Internet every day.”

Transcending the Phone

To be sure, the information age is taking up residence in handheld devices, delivering information that goes well beyond calls made and received.

“Internet-enabled phones are becoming a large part of what smartphones are. The need for full browsing capabilities has been highlighted by the iPhone and n800 from Nokia,” said Morris.

“We believe this is only going to grow. In the future people are going to expect to work more and more with the Internet on the go, to the point where your mobile phone will become the primary place you’ll access the Internet.”

Movial Touts Experience

The collaboration announcement is also good timing for one of the vendors, Finland-based Movial, which focuses on IP communications. Movial has announced its new Movial IXS (Internet Experience Suite). This consists of custom-branded user interfaces for Linux-based connected devices.

IXS includes a browser and a media player, messaging and social-networking capabilities. “We see that the power of browser functionality will only increase over time,” Tomi Rauste, President of Movial Creative Technologies, told LinuxInsider.

Movial will provide applications and will support and maintain the applications framework on behalf of the consortium, Rauste said.

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