OSCON: Linux Rocks in Mobile, Embedded Realm

Jim Zemlin of the Linux Foundation says Linux is the platform of choice for the mobile and embedded platforms. Zemlin will speak on the state of mobile Linux at OSCON.

Linux is here to stay in the mobile and embedded worlds.

That is the message Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, plans to deliver at the upcoming O'Reilly OSCON (Open Source Convention). OSCON runs July 21 to 25 in Portland, Ore., and Zemlin will be one of the first speakers on July 21 and among the last at the close of the event on July 25.

Zemlin shared some of the observations he will present in a talk entitled "The State of Mobile Linux" on July 21.

Zemlin said he continues to see strong adoption and deployment growth of Linux in the mobile environment, with the majority of top-tier OEMs and operators having committed to Linux and backing the LiMo (Linux Mobile) Foundation's Linux-based software stack for mobile devices or the Android stack from Google and the Open Handset Alliance.

Moreover, as additional evidence of the significance of Linux in the mobile space, Zemlin, in an interview with eWEEK, said there have been more than 50 million Linux-based devices shipped to date, with annual volumes projected to continue showing strong growth. In addition, the mobile application space is growing to include midtier devices, Zemlin said.

There are several technical drivers pushing mobile Linux adoption, including surging software content, Linux being a unified product platform and Linux offering flexibility throughout the stack, Zemlin said.

According to Zemlin, the number of lines of code in the typical mobile handset doubles each year. The Linux platform diverges across products, networks and regions, and enables organizations to unify training, support and expertise, he said. Linux also offers multiple options for CPU support, graphics and middleware, and it frees enterprises to mix legacy applications with commercial and free software, he said.

Among the business drivers for mobile Linux adoption are that Linux is a royalty-free base platform, it reduces the barriers to entry into the marketplace, it enables carriers, operators and ISVs to add services and applications to standards-based handsets, and Linux also helps operators reduce the number of operating systems and platforms they must support over the long term, Zemlin said.

Indeed, Linux is probably the only mobile solution that can offset the established clout of Symbian and Microsoft in the mobile space. By 2010, Zemlin said, Linux Foundation estimates have Symbian holding 22 percent of the smart-phone market, Linux holding 27 percent and Microsoft Windows Mobile holding 29 percent of the smart-phone mobile and wireless market.

The recent move by Nokia to take Symbian OS open source is not likely to have an impact on Linux, Zemlin said. "It is unlikely to draw developers away from Linux," he said.

"It used to be that hardware capability was more important in the cell phone industry, but these days it's software capability," Zemlin said. By following a hardware-first mentality, handset makers wound up having to support multiple legacy operating systems. But Linux offers them flexibility.

Besides, "there is a lot of commercial off-the-shelf software and a huge ecosystem around the platform," Zemlin said. "The OSCON crowd is made up of a lot of developers who are looking for development platforms to use ... and with 50 million handsets in the marketplace Linux is not a platform they want to ignore. For developers building devices this is the ultimate in flexibility. If you look at a closed platform, developers might have a hard time gaining access. They can try to get an SDK [software development kit] for the Apple iPhone and hope Steve Jobs lets them in."

Zemlin said he believes "Linux is really an interesting platform because it's present across every single aspect of computing," and is probably the fastest-growing platform across every aspect of computing-except maybe the desktop, where Apple is growing as fast, he said.

Meanwhile, in the embedded computing space, Linux has overtaken VxWorks as the leading embedded operating system, Zemlin said. In 2007, Linux had 18.3 percent of the embedded operating system market, as opposed to VxWorks' 11.9 percent and 16.3 percent for Windows embedded operating systems.

About one-third of the respondents to a 2007 Venture Development poll said they planned to use Linux in their next embedded project.

The embedded market "adds another high growth area for Linux," Zemlin said.

The embedded Linux application space includes opportunities in the market for communications infrastructure, such as switches and routers; consumer electronics such as handheld devices, automotive and home entertainment systems; instrumentation and control uses such as in medical devices, industrial monitoring and manufacturing; aerospace and defense such as command and control systems; and office and retail automation systems.

"I tell people that they use Linux multiple times every day," Zemlin said. "Linux is everywhere; it's just branded Tivo and Google or Garmin" and a host of other brands that base their solutions on Linux.

"Linux doesn't toot its own horn as a brand, because we let everybody use it," Zemlin said.

The mobile and embedded spaces represent another part of the end-to-end adoption of Linux in the enterprise-from mobile and embedded systems, to edge devices, to infrastructure servers, to business application servers, to data and content servers at the top of the enterprise IT chain, Zemlin said.