Mobile Linux Takes Center Stage at OSCON

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By most estimates, Linux and other open-source operating systems represent about 1 percent of the PC market. But on mobile devices, Linux is growing fast. As of 2007, more than 18 percent of all embedded devices--from cell phones to PDAs to e-book readers--ran a Linux-based OS, while less than 17 percent ran embedded Windows. So it's no great surprise that this year's OSCON open-source conference is leading off with a new program focused specifically on mobile gadgets.

Open-source and Linux developers are gathering in Portland, Oregon, this week to show off their work, compare notes, and hone their skills. Google, Intel, Sun, Yahoo, and even Microsoft have come to influence the future of Linux and other open-source initiatives. And if one thing is clear, it's that the future is mobile.

This year, OSCON is kicking off with a new day-long program called Open Mobile Exchange. The program started this morning with a look at the state of open source in general--and Linux in particular--on mobile devices, presented by Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin.

While server and desktop systems remain a key focus for open source developers, many at the conference see mobile devices as a major opportunity for growth of the Linux platform. In his opening talk, Zemlin attributed much of this enthusiasm to a the convergence of important technical and business considerations.

On the technical side, said Zemlin, Linux presents developers with a flexible platform that makes it easy to launch new software products quickly. It also now enjoys a wealth of new development platforms, including the much-touted (but somewhat delayed) Google Android and Trolltech's Qtopia. Additionally, Linux runs readily on a wide variety of CPUs and devices.

From a business perspective, Zemlin attributes the interest in mobile Linux, in large measure, to the lower development costs of royalty-free code. However, Linux also offers developers a chance to brand, skin, and customize their products in ways that major platform vendors Microsoft and Apple would never allow.

Of course, there's more to mobile open source than just Linux this year. The Symbian operating system, which represents roughly 22 percent of the smart-phone market, has gone open-source as well, in the wake of its acquisition by handset-maker Nokia. The combined Linux-Symbian OS juggernaut means that your next mobile phone has a good chance of running an open-source OS, even as Linux market share continues to flounder on desktop PCs.

Mobile software and devices will play a major role on the show floor at OSCON this year, with Google, Intel, Trolltech, Ubuntu, and a host of other major developers planning to showcase their efforts on cell phones and Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs).

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