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Linux Finds Momentum within Mobile Devices

The Linux community continues to infiltrate the mobile phone environment with a two-pronged approach that focuses on commercial operating system solutions and real-time operating system (RTOS) replacement.

In a new market study, ABI Research forecasts that by 2012, more than 127 million devices will be enabled with a commercial Linux OS, up from 8.1 million in 2007. Additionally, device shipments that incorporate Linux as an RTOS replacement are set to grow to more than 76 million units in 2012, up from nearly zero in 2007. "Linux within the cellular phone is not a question of if, but when," says research director Stuart Carlaw.

The new ABI report, "Mobile Linux: Bringing License-Free Operating Systems to Smartphones and Mid-Tier Devices," found that the most fundamental issue that has plagued the growth of commercial Linux in this space -- vertical and horizontal market fragmentation -- has shown signs of being alleviated, both by growing collaboration between industry initiatives, and by the introduction of complete solutions such as the Trolltech-led GreenSuite, and ALP from ACCESS.

On the other side of the coin, issues with latency have prevented Linux being considered as a viable RTOS replacement in single-processor devices. But Carlaw points out that "Innovative solutions such as PREEMPT_RT, the VirtualLogix virtual operating environment, and the use of RTOS executives over Linux kernels, look set to deal with latency issues. However, the industry still needs to understand the total cost of ownership for Linux solutions, and it must create a common set of APIs to enable economies of scale for third-party developers."

Frankly, the more that third-party developers have access to a fully open mobile device platform, the better. Clearly, mobile phone manufacturers and their component suppliers can use some creative help in making these devices more suitable for non-engineers to use and apply. The prior closed platform approach apparently restricted the talent pool, and has resulted in a series of missteps that has plagued the mobile sector to date.

Perhaps if Linux had already made significant inroads into the wireless sector, then the focus at CTIA would have been more on creative device and service applications, and less on the more pedestrian topic of improving service coverage. Industry analysts weren't surprised that mobile TV hype was reduced at CTIA, but some were clearly puzzled by the broader retreat from value added applications.

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