Mobile Linux unification

While Microsoft is finally getting a clue and incorporating its Zune media playing and Xbox game capability into its new Windows Mobile, mobile Linux is making its own improvements. First, Intel and Nokia are merging their mobile Linux distributions into a single operating system: MeeGo. At the same time, Adobe and Google has partnered up to bring Adobe Flash to Android.

MeeGo has great promise. I always liked Intel's Moblin, and merging it with Nokia's Maemo is a smart move. As Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, which has served as midwife to this move, observed, the merging helps create "one open-source uber-platform for the next generation of computing devices: tablets, pocketable computers, netbooks, automotive IVI (In-Vehicle Infotainment) and more... With MeeGo, you have the world's largest chip manufacturer and the world's largest mobile handset manufacturer joining forces to create an incredible opportunity for developers who want to reach millions of users with innovative technology."

All true, but what's more important is that it's a move toward unity of mobile Linux distributions. One of the big reasons why Linux's ancestor, Unix, was never successful in becoming a major operating system except in servers was that there were always half a dozen or more competing systems that were always competing with each other. SunOS was battling with AIX, which was slugging it out with HP/UX, which was having it out with SCO OpenServer, etc. etc.; meanwhile, Microsoft Windows was left free to mop up on the desktop.

Linux is still divided into factions: the Debian/Ubuntu family; Red Hat Enterprise Linux and its relatives, such as Fedora and CentOS; and Novell with SUSE Linux Enterprise. But unlike the bad old Unix days, it's not hard to move applications from one Linux distribution to another on the desktop or the server.

But on mobile devices, it's harder for ISV (independent software vendors) to move applications between platforms. Mobile ISVs have to deal with a wider variety of hardware and network compatibility issues than their server and desktop programming counterparts. That's why MeeGo is an important move. By presenting mobile ISVs with one less platform to support, it makes life easier for them to support mobile Linux.

As Zemlin also points out, MeeGo will not focus on just the desktop or smartphone, but on "a wide variety of devices, and that takes full advantage of the superior computing power of each device category -- longer battery life, better screens, location services, touch, 4G broadband, new vehicle technology and stronger processors... [It's] not an OS designed for a legacy purpose that is being crammed or expanded into a new device form. In other words, this isn't a square peg in a round hole -- MeeGo is a next generation mobile operating system designed for the next generation of mobile devices."

Again, what I think is even more important is that, to quote Zemlin, "Intel and Nokia understand true innovation in computing is not restricted to private silos, no matter how big. They are opening up this platform to the broader community. MeeGo, as Linux Foundation project ... will be helpful for Linux as a platform. It combines mobile development resources that were recently split in the Maemo and Moblin projects into one well-supported, well-designed project that addresses cross-platform, cross-device and cross-architecture development. Android, Chrome OS, the Palm Pre, Bada, and dozens of traditional Linux desktop efforts use many of the components in MeeGo."

In other words, MeeGo, like Linux, will serve at the common foundation for many Linux-based mobile operating systems. This, in turn will make Linux much more attractive to application designers.

At the same time this news was coming out, Adobe was announcing that it was bringing Adobe Flash Player 10.1 and Adobe AIR to Google Android mobile Linux. Since Flash is the de facto video standard on the Web, this will make Android devices even more attractive. That's especially true since Apple has zero interest in supporting Flash on its iPhone, iPod and iPad product lines.

What all this adds up to is that even more Linux mobile devices like Motorola''s Droid and Devour coming on soon. In addition, you can expect to see a slew of mobile Linux-powered netbooks and the first samples of, yes, the Linux-powered answers to Apple's iPad tablet.

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