Open source ushers mobile OS changes

The year is starting out with what may turn out to be significant changes in the mobile operating system market, with open source software playing a significant role just as it has in enterprise software, virtualization and cloud computing.

With fading heavyweights and interesting new challengers, there are changes afoot in the mobile OS market, but we must first acknowledge the market today is still mainly a duopoly of Apple with iOS and Samsung with Android.

However, if we look back five years, we see how dramatically the mobile OS landscape has changed. Given the pace of today’s device and application development and support, as well as users from consumers to the enterprise, we can expect similarly dramatic changes in the coming months and years.

Read the full article at LinuxInsider.

WebOS and the open alternative live another day

There has been no shortage of reaction to HP’s move to make the Linux-based WebOS open source software. Below, I offer some of my thoughts on the meaning for the different players affected.

*What’s it mean for WebOS?
Moving WebOS to open source was best option for HP. It retains some value in the software depending on its involvement. It is also the best fate for the code, rather then being sold or simmered to its IP and patent value or even used as another weapon in the ongoing mobile software patent wars. Still, the move comes amid huge developer and consumer uncertainty for WebOS. Nevertheless, at least WebOS was already in the market with a compelling products, the Palm the Pre, in the modern smartphone market. WebOS will hopefully have a faster path to open source than Symbian since the former is based on Linux. I still think the greatest opportunity for WebOS may be in serving as an open alternative in the market, particularly after Android has proven to handset makers, wireless carriers, OEMs and others that a Linux-based, open source mobile OS can succeed in the market and provide profit for multiple parties. Furthering this opportunity, WebOS may be even more attractive to these key vendors, channel players and other stakeholders who are tired of the IP and patent stress and expense around Android. Of course, Android was not under patent or IP attack until it was successful in the market and the same may be the case for WebOS, though we think its IP roots and history in touch and smartphone technology are less complex in terms of origin and ownership.

*What’s it mean for competitors?
For Apple, an open source WebOS means more market pressure and open pressure, more competition for developers and a real danger WebOS hooks into the Android ecosystem. WebOS may also be harder to attack from a patent and IP standpoint since it is older and more singular in ownership (Palm and now HP). Other factors include HP’s own formidable patent portfolio and the perception of Apple as a patent aggressor, which would be reinforced if it attacked WebOS the way it has gone after Android.

For Android, it may finally get a dose of its own open medicine, feeling the pressure of another Linux-based, open source mobile OS that is familiar to many developers, compatible with newer smartphone technologies and appealing to handset makers and other key OEMs. However, WebOS is also a validation of Android, which paved the path for mobile Linux and open source to finally break through beyond geeks to reach a mass consumer audience.

As for other proprietary players such as Microsoft and RIM, another open source rival is bad news. It presents another open source option and potentially serious competition on developers, applications, devices, carriers and consumers. An open source WebOS may also make Android, in effect, more open with faster, easier access to code for both Android and WebOS compete. This could make it even harder for these older, proprietary players to get developer or consumer mind share that is already slipping.

*What’s it mean for open source? Really, there is no downside for open source except that it will be viewed as a form of software cemetery if WebOS is not developed or delivered to market. HP’s WebOS move does give open source greater prominence in mobile software. Again, it is a validation of Android, which is Linux-based and open source, and shows that we haven’t seen the last of mobile Linux and open source software in Android.

Ubuntu on the move more than in decline

Ubuntu has been taking some criticism and heat for its falling Distrowatch rankings. I don’t doubt that after years of popularity, we’re finally seeing a bit of a return to the desktop Linux world of old when a new distribution shot up every week or month, then faded, then re-appeared … and so on. However, when I consider where Canonical and Ubuntu are heading, I question the significance of desktop OS standing and Distrowach rankings.

First off, I must say that Ubuntu’s slip off the ‘king of the hill’ game on Distrowatch came at the expense of Linux Mint, another polished, user-friendly Linux. It wouldn’t surprise me if some Ubuntu users may be migrating to Mint or other distributions largely out of frustration or dislike of the new Unity interface over the previous primary interface, Gnome. However, I think the move will be worth it in the long run to Ubuntu, as I’ll explain further.

If considering desktop OS, the most important aspect to me as an enterprise software analyst is enterprise desktop, and Ubuntu does well there. I’m sure there are plenty of shops running other flavors of Linux, including Mint, Gentoo, Fedora, OpenSUSE, Debian and many, many others, but for corporate desktop, the list quickly thins. Nevertheless, this is where Canonical has had some big victories, including the French police. In terms of consumer and user desktop PCs, the category itself is disappearing into converged and touch-capable devices, further distancing us from the ‘distro wars’ of the past.

Still, the server is where the real action and revenue from Linux exist. Here, Ubuntu still faces a role-reversal from most Linux distributions, using desktop and developer popularity to fuel its use as a server OS, which is also helped by free availability and cloud computing. Ubuntu continues to benefit from its early move to cloud computing and its popularity among developers, but also still faces a huge challenge in monetizing use. Significantly, the latest version, Ubuntu 11.10, incorporates support for OpenStack (or Eucalyptus) and VMware Cloud Foundry PaaS. This could be significant given what we’ve seen from this type of integration and bundling in the past. In addition, Ubuntu benefits from being among the select few Linux distribution that exist in both free, community and paid, commercial form. As reported in our special report, ‘The Changing Linux Landscape,’ the existence of an unpaid community cousin can help drive commercial growth for paid, subscription Linux, as we’ve seen happen with free Ubuntu and paid Ubuntu, as well as Fedora and RHEL and OpenSUSE and SLES.

Finally, the explosion of smartphones, tablets and converged devices — many of them running embedded Linux — makes clear there is more opportunity in these newer devices than in the desktop PCs of old. Ubuntu got a good start in netbooks and continues to be among the most advanced netbook operating systems. This should help its move to smartphones, tablets, other mobile devices, TVs and more and this is where the payoff of Unity occurs. Canonical with Ubuntu may have a real advantage as a user-friendly, mobile Linux OS that can be used by OEMs and carriers without the intellectual property stress that has marked Android, which has nonetheless laid the groundwork for mobile Linux in the industry. In the end, the pain of leaving Gnome has been significant, but the promise of where Ubuntu is headed seems worth that pain.

Is Android FUD a forebearer of Linux-like success?

Time is flying by so fast, it sure doesn’t seem like it was last year I was blogging about how Android is for real. Well, let me reiterate … Android is for real. The reason I say that and stress that is despite its success, we see a variety of legal threats, accusations and actual lawsuits flying at Android as fast as it is growing in the market.

Still, we seem to be able to fairly easily find agreement among vendors, developers and users that Android development is not slowing down, that legal maneuvering will not pave a path to success or that any ruling or action will take Android-based phones out of consumers’ hands. This is not to say Android doesn’t face significant challenges: real fragmentation and version overload; a software development pace that may be too fast for handset makers or consumers; innovation from rivals such as Apple, HP, Research In Motion, Microsoft and others, including ones we may not yet be considering a threat, but which may find an improvement or refinement. This could be as simple as serving as the more open alternative.

I’ve seen some criticisms of Android and Google indicating it is clear or should be clear what is open source and what is not. I would argue, however, that is has become quite unclear what is open source and what is not in all circumstances and particularly in smartphones, as we covered in our special report Mobility Matters two-and-a-half long years ago. There’s no denying the constant pressure for Android and Google and others in the ecosystem to be true to the spirit and letter of open source and its licenses, however painful, serves to strengthen its open source aspects. However, the statements and signals crying foul against Android are quite similar to the complaints, threats and, yes, FUD we saw swirling around Linux a decade ago. And let’s not forget the lesson of open enough, which becomes even more significant given cloud computing and the capabilities it is extending to smartphones and other mobile devices.

Bottom line, developers, handset manufacturers and consumers are heavily more focused on new releases every six months than who is suing whom in the IP infringement claim game and software patent ‘system.’ To predict where Android is headed and what is likely to happen as a result of the FUD, we can look at Linux, which emerged stronger, more competitive and more enterprise-ready after the infamous SCO threats and lawsuits.

I have no fear that Android development and innovation will slow down as a result of legal claims, suits or threats. I have no uncertainty that new features, functionality, applications and development will be the drivers in the market and I have no doubt that the companies, cash and consumers on the line will keep things incredibly interesting over the next several years. No FUD here. Nothing to see, move on.

Tablet fight shaping up as smartphone repeat

Here we go again. Apple is not only leaving opportunity for more open alternatives, it is dismissing the competition, which it apparently thinks either does not or should not exist.

While Apple may be calling its Android-based competition vapor, bizarre or otherwise unmagical, we nonetheless are getting the same signals we did when Android arrived on the smartphone scene a few years ago. First, advertising and marketing campaigns are not limited to Apple’s devices and now include aggressive strategies around Android for smartphones and, such as the case with the new Android-powered Samsung Galaxy Tab, for tablets. Second, there are a number of significant, powerful and yes, innovative companies that are working on Android devices, strategies, applications and other content. In fact, Android tablets will most certainly benefit from Android smartphones the same way Apple’s iPad and community have benefited from the solid base created with the iPhone. In addition, there is a much broader range of Android devices, including devices that are more specialized, more expensive or, of course, less expensive (I saw an ad for a $110 Android tablet device in the newspaper recently).

Another important signal: developer love for Android. While Apple no doubt continues to attract attention, development, commercial opportunity and market, Android is also identified as a fast-growing ecosystem and a prime target for device makers, developers and ISVs, marketers and others.

All of this means that, just as we saw with Android in the smartphone market, there may be underestimated challenges(451 subscribers) for Apple in tablets, including Android-based devices and the likes of the RIM PlayBook and MeeGo OS.

While netbooks continue to go niche, I also think there is much more promise and potential for Android to power other devices — including netooks. While I joked a couple of years ago about Android going on toasters, it is seriously making inroads among a broad range of electronics and systems manufacturers from all over the world. One of the latest uses of Android: powering a space satellite.

With Android popping up in all of these places, I find it doubtful it will not be significant in tablets, as it has been in smartphones.

Lessons learned from Symbian’s journey to open source and back

With word that the Symbian Foundation is transforming again, this time away from an open source nonprofit to a licensing operation of Nokia and other Symbian developers and backers, there are indeed some lessons for how commercial open source communities work, and how they don’t.

First, we’ll cover some of the meaning and implications for what remains of the Symbian Foundation, the Symbian OS and its primary backer Nokia. There is no question it is rightfully being viewed as a failure in terms of open source. While Symbian had some of the ingredients for a vibrant open source project — significant developer, manufacturer and user penetration, commercial backing, open source Eclipse Public License and community structure — it also struggled from the start to address one of the greatest challenges for open source projects: balancing control and community. As we’ve seen with other cases in the past, it seems it is difficult for a software project or community to succeed and grow beyond its roots and original supporters if it was not open source from the start. Even when open source from the start, it can be particularly challenging to benefit from corporate interests, investment and participation while still maintaining community independence and enthusiasm among open source developers. We also see continued evidence of this challenge and struggle with Oracle and its ongoing stewardship of and interaction with open source software projects and products that were part of Sun Microsystems, including Java, OpenOffice, and OpenSolaris.

The Symbian Foundation is not the only group that has something to learn from all of this. Open source projects, developers, companies, investors and others should also be aware of why open source did not seem to generate its benefits of faster development, flexibility and future path through community growth in the case of the Symbian Foundation. It would be a shame if open source developers and communities were unable to accept software or a project because it was not open source from the start, but that seems to be the case. The key to overcoming this, and to moving beyond perceptions that a single company or group is attempting to benefit to the exclusion of others seems to be in attracting cross-industry and cross-open source and proprietary support, similar to what we have seen with OpenStack from Rackspace, which incorporated NASA and its open source Nebula code at the start and has since won the support of a range of industry players, including open source vendors and non-open source vendors. In the end for Symbian, the use of the Eclipse Public License and establishment of a nonprofit foundation did not ensure the development and emergence of an Eclipse-type community. Instead, Symbian has continued to languish in terms of attention and developer mind share while iPhone, iPad and Android garner more.

So the lessons from the Symbian Foundation’s journey to open source and back are basically in order for an open source community to flourish, that community must take priority over control and commercial interests. It is also fair to say Symbian is a reflection of the reality that the odds of open source success are increased if the software project is open source from the start. At the very least, the challenges of building community around software that has transformed from proprietary to open source are much greater, and the need to involve and advertise additional involvement are also greater. Even aside from these factors, open source communities that succeed are also arguably the benefactors of timing and luck, and these also seem to be tipping the scales in favor of others.

Industry giants show some give on openness

Apple got lots of attention when it opened up a bit recently — allowing third-party tools to develop applications for its devices and disclosing its App Store guidelines publicly, a move that we and many others applaud.

While it got less attention, Google also opened up a bit more by allowing all OSI-approved open source licenses, including the AGPL on its Google Code, a move that was also met with cheers from some. This comes as a welcome change from Google, which had previously resisted the AGPL.

We believe both moves were facilitated most by these respective smartphone, software and IT industry giants’ efforts to better address their partners and users. We also think it is further evidence of the pressure of openness, brought about largely because of free and open source software and its growth across enterprise, cloud computing and mobile markets. We described this pressure previously when we talked about Apple, Google and even others leaving opportunity for more open alternatives. Just as we have discussed how open source software is playing a role in the latest debates and discussions about openness in the cloud, we believe that free and open source software and its ideals of transparency and openness are also playing a role in mobile software and devices.

Tuxera dresses embedded Linux for convergence

It’s easy for ’embedded Linux’ to get lost in a confusing jumble of processors, hardware, devices and software, but there is no doubt the last couple of years have been marked by increased consolidation around mobile and embedded Linux, a trend that is ongoing and one that continues to draw significant players, such as HP with its recent acquisition of Phoenix Technologies’ HyperSpace instant-on OS to go along with its acquired Linux-based WebOS from Palm.

The consolidation and momentum, particularly for Android, have continued, but mobile and especially embedded Linux remain a disjoined and somewhat confusing topic and market. That’s why we see efforts such as Linaro and Meld trying to leverage and direct all of that mobile and embedded Linux and open source software that is fragmented by devices as much, if not more, than by code. The complexity and fragmented nature of the topic also means it’s good to speak with vendors at the center of this consolidation and convergence.

One such vendor is Tuxera, and we had a chance to speak with the Finnish-based company that is square in the middle of the mobile and embedded Linux trends thanks to its business based on interoperable filesystems NTFS and exFAT. The startup, which also has offices and major customers in the U.S., Europe and Asia, agrees the consolidation and traction around embedded Linux and Android are markedly different than previous false starts in the market. While it has drawn some controversy for its IP deal with Microsoft, Tuxera says this allows it to benefit from the ability to offer support, integration and licensing for both NTFS and exFAT filesystems.

What is striking when speaking with Tuxera is the range of devices, applications and places that Linux, and also its filesystem technology, is showing up. Tuxera focuses on interoperable filesystems, so that USB, SD and other media can transport data to and from different devices with different operating systems. However, the company does see synergy in Linux, which thanks to efforts such as Android is now as present in consumer devices — smartphones, set-top boxes, televisions and automobiles — as Linux is in the enterprise server market.

Tuxera cuts through some of confusion in mobile and embedded space, focusing mainly on consumer electronics and other OEMs, semiconductor partners and software integrators. Tuxera is also working with industrial uses of embedded Linux and its filesystem technology, which is where folks usually begin to glaze over or tune out, but which nonetheless involves absolutely mission-critical uses and lucrative markets in government and military, medicine, space and transportation.

We’ll have more on Tuxera in a coming 451 Group report and we’ll also be staying in touch with the company as this mobile and embedded Linux story continues to unfold, expand and play into convergence.

Apple gets its Android on

Another week, another Apple hype cycle, but what is most interesting about Apple’s recent unveiling of the new iPhone 4 was what came with it — iOS, which is being viewed as Apple’s platform play beyond just iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

What’s also interesting is that recently, we’ve been seeing Android hype actually keep pace with iPhone/iPad hype. We’ve been seeing Android command headlines, not only in smartphones, but also:

Android in tablets, where we are seeing the same type of reaction and strategy in response to iPad as we did from iPhone from a wide array of key vendors and groupings held together by Android.

As we anticipated in our report, Mobility Matters, Android in the enterprise, which also involves cloud connectivity and competition.

Android in automobiles, where we not only see a strong presence for embedded Linux, but we see additional evidence of smartphone players and strategy stretching out to cars and telematics and other devices in RIM’s acquisition of RTOS vendor QNX, which opened its code in response to the surge of Linux in the embedded OS space.

Android in TVs, where there are obvious synergies that fit into Google’s TV play, as well as broader in-home implications.

Android in other mobile devices and electronics as evidenced by the embedded Linux nonprofit Linaro, created by hardware heavies ARM, IBM, Samsung, ST-Ericcson and Texas Instruments to support Android, among other Linux-based software, with the latest system-on-chip (SoC) and device technology. Android has been a huge part of the consolidation we’ve seen in embedded Linux that includes Intel-Wind River, Cavium Networks-MontaVista, Mentor Graphics-Embedded Alley and RIM-QNX.

Android in toasters: OK, this was just an on-stage joke at the 451 Group Client Conference last November in Boston, but there may be some company or consortium working on it, so I’ll list it here toward the bottom.

But seriously, it will be interesting to see whether Apple’s advantage in closely connecting the hardware and software will turn into Android’s advantage in the flexibility to run on a wider variety of hardware and devices as competition broadens out beyond the smartphone.

Apple is now more formally aligning its different platforms and devices via the operating system, and this is something that has been happening with Android for at least a couple of years and with Linux for longer. There is no question Apple is finding success with its devices and market growth, but it is also interesting to see a more open alternative giving it real competition, not only in smartphones, but in many more facets of technology and our lives.

Android is for real

The only thing as interesting and exciting as the reports and headlines on Android topping iPhone in smartphone sales in a recent quarter was the response from Apple, which downlplayed Android’s buzz-generating gains.

First off, smartphone commentaries should start with props to Apple for showing the way, but the company continues to leave and arguably generate opportunity for more open alternatives such as Android. Apple is correct that the recent sales figures are only a snapshot of time and customers, but it is also even further off when it talks about sales of iPod and iPod Touch devices, which are not smartphones.

As for Android, even if it was helped along by Apple-like advertising campaigns and two-for-one offers, the Linux-based, Apache-licensed mobile OS has undoubtedly made the biggest strides in the modern smartphone market we’ve seen since iPhone. I recall immense skepticism when we indicated in our CAOS report Mobility Matters way back in November 2008 that the first Android phone on the market, the G1, represented an impressive first step and a sign of fast, carrier-supported development and advancement thanks in large part to open source. Regardless of how significant its device maker and carrier support, including two for one deals, Android has done better than expected in the market. It certainly marks the furthest a mobile OS based on Linux has ever gone.

Much of the debate also centers on the pros and cons of: Apple’s control, which affords it unrivaled integration, but can also repel developers and third-parties; Android fragmentation, which on one hand means a variety of devices and versions, but on the other hand means they are more loosely tied together via applications.

We also see some of the same factors and circumstances for the tablet, where Apple is again arriving first and setting the bar as it sees fit, but where Android, fresh off of its impressive entry into smartphones, is also looming. We may also see Google’s Chrome browser and OS become more important in the tablet form factor, but it appears frankly there is far more hardware and device, developer, carrier and market momentum for Android right now.

CAOS Theory Podcast 2010.02.05

Topics for this podcast:

*Matt Asay moves from Alfresco to Canonical
*GPL fade fuels heated discussion
*Apple’s iPad and its enterprise and open source impact
*Open source in data warehousing and storage
*Our perspective on Oracle’s plans for Sun open source

iTunes or direct download (32:50, 9.2 MB)

Apple, Google and the open alternative

Say what you will about Google, its open source software use, its perspective on openness or its lack of openness in some cases (and as evidenced by the links, I have), but the company deserves some credit for being — like it or not — the ‘open alternative.’ In addition to its contributions of code, developers and support to open source, Google also gets credit as the biggest, toughest ‘open’ badge wearer. Regardless of how open it is or is not, at least we have a formidable software and technology company carrying the mantle of the open alternative.

Take Android as an example. Although we continue to hear developer and vendor concerns about its openness, including recent reports it is not continuing in mainline Linux kernel development, Android continues to present the biggest challenge to Apple’s iPhone, both in terms of actual market penetration and buzz. While Android has its limitations in terms of openness, it continues to put pressure on Apple to be more open itself, particularly with its development process and application store. Much in the same way enterprise open source software vendors have put pressure on proprietary competitors to lower prices, improve support and quality, I believe Android is similarly keeping pressure on Apple to respond to concerns about its closed, controlled approach.

Now the discussion has turned to Apple’s recently announced iPad tablet device. As I indicated, I expected some type of open source response, most likely from an existing technology or effort. Where is the open alternative coming from? Again, it appears it is Google, this time with Chrome. Had it been proposed, announced or rumored before Apple’s iPad, a tablet from Google might not seem very open at all in terms of developer and partner access to source code and other aspects. However, when it sits alongside Apple’s announcement and strategy, it again becomes the open alternative.

Whatever Apple comes up with, it seems Google or somebody else or a band of competitors such as the Open Handset Alliance are ready and willing to come up with something in response. In order to make it cost-effective, fast, brandable and developer-friendly, the response also involves open source software.

This is a theme we highlighted in our CAOS special report, Mobility Matters. Part of the reason we saw real traction for mobile Linux, particularly Android, after previous false starts for mobile Linux and open source software was the array of hardware and handset makers, third-party software vendors, wireless carriers, advertising outfits and others that were all similarly focused on their iPhone response: the open alternative.

True, the concerns and issues around Android’s openness, or lack thereof, have significant implications. This is further illustration of how Google may be the open alternative juxtaposed against Apple, but by adding its own strings and closures, Google is also leaving the door open for another, more open alternative. Perhaps Palm and its WebOS are an example, but again, it seems no matter what a company or consortium does, they still leave opportunity for a relatively more open alternative.

It begs the question of how open is open enough? The answer inevitably varies for developers, consumers, vendors and enterprises, but it appears open alternatives will continue to serve as competition and counterbalance to closed technology and strategy and this is a good thing.

CAOS Theory Podcast 2010.01.08

Topics for this podcast:

*Google and the meaning of open
*Nexus One smartphone and impact
*JetBrains sets mind, strategy on open source
*Linux in 2010 and beyond

iTunes or direct download (27:26, 6.3 MB)

2010 kicks off era of hidden Linux

For something as open as Linux — the open source operating system developed by thousands of individuals and dozens of companies — you wouldn’t think it would be so hidden, but that’s exactly what Linux will be in 2010 and beyond. We’ve already discussed progress for non-desktop Linux and the layered pervasiveness of Linux. Now let’s consider what might happen as Linux quietly finds its way into even more consumer and enterprise use.

The most prominent yet most hidden place this is happening is in embedded devices — which range from consumer electronics such as media players, set-top boxes and televisions to automotive infotainment to industrial control technology to aerospace and military technology. We’ve seen some consolidation and M&A around embedded Linux, particularly the Android OS backed by Google and the Open Handset Alliance, with deals such as Intel-Wind River, Mentor Graphics-Embedded Alley and most recently, Cavium Networks-MontaVista. In addition, processor players including ARM Holdings and MIPS Technologies are supporting Android and embedded Linux. Soon behind the current cavalcade of Android-based smartphones hitting the market, we can expect even more various devices running Android and other forms of embedded Linux. What we shouldn’t expect is to see or hear the word ‘Linux’ in any advertising, packaging or campaigning.

Of course, there’s a whole lot more Linux and other open source software in mobile devices today — Android, Nexus One, WebOS, LiMO, Moblin, Ubuntu Netbook Remix and more — but we’re not really hearing or seeing it as ‘mobile Linux.’ Obviously there continues to be some degree of fragmentation, but given Google and the many Android-based devices that continue to come to market, there is also consolidation here, too. Linux may be stronger than it ever has in mobile devices in 2010, but don’t look for Linux by name. It’s unlikely you’ll see it from the handset manufacturers, software vendors, wireless carriers and others who are pushing it.

Next up, there will be much more virtual Linux, particularly in Microsoft and Windows shops that are enjoying greater integration and support of Linux from Redmond. This — along with the growing base of enterprise Linux users leveraging virtualization and additional commercial support from Red Hat, Novell, Canonical and others — will help fuel more virtual Linux traction and growth. However, don’t expect Microsoft to talk too loudly about virtual Linux options and keep in mind we are still, even now in 2010, relatively early on in the enterprise adoption of server virtualization.

Moving on, what better place for Linux to hide inconspicuously than in cloud computing? We’ve covered the significance of community Linux in the enterprise and also community Linux in the clouds. With more support for community software and growing desire to build private and hybrid clouds, Linux (both commercial and community) figures prominently into the equation as a basic, flexible yet scalable building block. The end result is both use of Linux to build cloud infrastructure and availability of Linux in the clouds, even though it is likely to be labeled or branded something other than ‘Linux.’

So while we can expect major market gains and new inroads for Linux, the further the open source OS spreads, the less likely we are to really see how far.

Do not confuse Microsoft IP with Linux

Microsoft’s latest intellectual property (IP) licensing agreement is once again raising eyebrows among Linux and open source software fans, prompting some to wonder what Microsoft may be doing with regard to Linux and open source software. However, let us consider how possible, or perhaps even whether possible, it would be for Microsoft to bring licensing or litigation to or against another company, whether a vendor or user of enterprise IT, that did not in some way involve Linux and open source software. The latest Microsoft IP deal, while indeed cause for some concern, is also further evidence of how pervasive and entrenched Linux and open source software is in all of IT, from smartphones and consumer electronics to enterprise servers, HPC and virtualization, to key verticals and cloud computing.

Linux and open source played a small, if not insignificant role, in the recent TomTom case, which was settled, but continued to concern open source supporters. Still, that issue may become irrelevant since the advent of a workaround to Microsoft’s patented and dated File Allocation Table (FAT) technology. Furthermore, as we saw following the TomTom lawsuit and subsequent settlement with Microsoft, there has been no impact on Linux in the embedded devices space. If anything, momentum for Linux and open source continues to accelerate here considering devices such as Google Android and Palm Pre smartphones, Intel’s $884m bet with acquisition of Wind River and continued strength for embedded Linux players.

I must admit, I was not familiar with Melco Group or Buffalo NAS technology, the vendor and product involved in the latest Microsoft IP announcement, which admittedly does make several mentions of Linux. Still, I cover Linux and open source software pretty closely, and neither were on the radar. Is it truly accurate to consider Melco Group a ‘Linux vendor?’ To me the term connotes a vendor of the Linux OS, or perhaps even stretching to a specialty provider that relies or focuses heavily on Linux. Melco Group seems no more a Linux company than any hosting company, telecommunications company, set-top box manufacturer, satellite TV service operator, printer maker, navigational device manufacturer, server performance vendor, HPC clustering specialist or cloud computing player.

This indicates it would be folly for Microsoft to attack Linux or open source software. In doing so, it would shut itself out of virtually all of the key IT markets — smartphones, navigational devices, automotive industry application, healthcare, telecom and other verticals, servers, HPC, virtualization, cloud computing, etc.

I would never say that Linux and open source software vendors, or anyone else, should not be cautious, judicious and pragmatic when dealing with Microsoft. I continue to have my own skepticisms and concerns about the company. However, I think we need to consider the idea that Microsoft is more interested in monetizing its intellectual property by licensing than it is in harming or fighting open source. There will be times that its intellectual property crosses over with open source software projects and vendors, which have evolved and matured to the point they are present in all layers, sectors and corners of our industry. There will also be times when there are no connections to any Linux or open source software.

Microsoft’s legitimate support of Linux and other open source software continues to grow, and there are certainly rewards to running on Windows. Supporters of Linux and open source should be able to take the compliment, the validation and the opportunity without alarms going off every time an organization that touches Linux or open source is involved in IP licensing or litigation. After all, tell me, what enterprise organization doesn’t touch open source software in some way today? This is further validation that Linux and open source have arrived and are here to stay.

Moblin as the middle man

Is it a phone, is it a PC? A netbook or MID? It’s Moblin and if Intel has its way, it will be ‘inside’ the mobile devices we’re using in a year or two, whatever they look like or whatever they’re called.

The latest page of this Intel Moblin story is the announced partnership with mobile phone giant Nokia. While details may have been scant in the announcement, it seems natural that Intel would want to work with a vendor on the mobile phone end of the spectrum, while Nokia would likewise want to stake its claim in the more PC-leaning netbook and MID end.

We’ve seen Intel and its Moblin community, now hosted by the Linux Foundation, work with other software vendors in various categories, primarily netbooks. Here we see Moblin being integrated and perhaps serving as a foundation for other Linux distributions, including Canonical’s Ubuntu Netbook Remix, Xandros, Linpus and Red Flag. These different distributions illustrate how in some ways mobile Linux continues to be somewhat fragmented. However, the distributions and their backers also highlight how the global opportunity and picture is much different and much greater than any than specific, geographic market.

Given all of the buzz around porting of Android to various hardware and processor platforms, I also wonder whether we will hear about similar collaboration and integration of Moblin with that Linux-based OS from Google and the Open Handset Alliance, of which Intel is a member. There is also Intel’s acquisition of Wind River, which represents its strongest push yet in embedded software.

I see all of this headed to a place where Moblin rests below a variety of other software that is more specialized to the particular device, whether it is a smartphone, a netbook a tablet PC or something else. The question is, will Moblin be able to play all of those different roles? Intel is intent on making sure the Moblin software and community have a whole cast of characters to make it happen.

The Linux ‘weakbook’ bites back

I was pointed toward an interesting article recently that centered on a competitive battle of netbooks v. smartphones, indicating the latter will emerge victorious. It is true that smartphones are bucking the bad economy and gaining market like never before — with traction for iPhone and BlackBerry and even mobile Linux making a go of it (as discussed in our latest CAOS report, Mobility Matters. However, will the smartphone really kill the netbook, described as a ‘weakbook’ because it’s light and cheap? Nah. Here’s why:

Keyboard – even if it’s a smaller or tiny keyboard, the netbook allows you to type with real fingers and real keys. I’m partial to this because I’m a writer, but I don’t see the capability to write more than a Twitter update or short message, much less a stack of email responses, on a smartphone. On the netbook, you can plug away at the keys and if you prefer, you can find netbook keyboards that are almost as large as standard notebook size.

Screen – Oh, come here, you’ve gotta see this video. Um, can you back off a little, please? Unless we want to knock heads when we share cool things we’ve found or see on our latest gadgets, aren’t we’re going to want a screen that is 7-10 inches, rather than 3-4 inches? Furthermore, I’m not sure I could see sitting through a show or movie with an iPhone or other handheld. The netbook is already in a fairly familiar form factor for entertainment thanks to portable DVD players, and I see this device as ideal for streaming video TV shows, clips and movies. Considering screens and video, let’s not forget about Flash, which is moving ahead with or without Apple and which may be another edge for netbooks.

Storage – If you want a truly more mobile device, a netbook with solid state drive is best, and here netbooks do not offer a whole lot more than their smartphone rivals in terms of storage. However, netbooks may be more conducive to hooking up to USB toggles, SD and other external storage to broaden your options. If you are really looking for serious storage, you can opt for a netbook with a hard disc drive — typically offering 80-160GB capacity. While it may be a tad less mobile-ready, there’s no comparison to a smartphone in this regard.

Form Factor – let’s not forget that netbooks are PCs. While they still draw attention because of their slickness or cuteness or newness (perhaps even more than a, hold your breath, smartphone), they are bascially the same PCs that we have been using for years. Point, click, type, open, shut. This also leads to another area, user experience, where I personally see a big advantage in netbooks. I can barely manage to shift my mobile phone from loudspeaker to handset to mute and unumte during a live call. I’d much rather have a separate device, that’s right I want two devices, so that I can hop around between emails, Web pages, IM chats and more without having to keep looking at the device and changing tasks, however elegant that process may be.

All of these are arguable, but I believe there is one big factor that is less arguable which makes the netbook the killer: service plans and cost. Buy a netbook, and you’re out $300 to $500 for a good piece of machinery that can connect you to the Internet anywhere there’s WiFi. While you have the option of 3G and that is likely to increase, it is an option and it’s up to you which carrier to choose. Buy an iPhone, buy a BlackBerry or buy a G1, and you’re typically in for extended agreements and some serious service charges with the wireless carrier of their choice. I, for one, have no desire to buy a device that is going to tie me into charges that increase my total investment by 5-10 times. Even figuring in the cost of having a separate mobile phone puts you and your netbook below half the cost of owning one of these smartphones.

Cost is also the reason I see an advantage for Linux and the OS is also viewed as the more cost-competitive option by none other than Intel, which is integral in moving x86 computing and rich Internet experiences to mobile devices and smartphones, but seems more than content to make and sell netbooks as fast as consumers are buying them right now.

A Halloween blog of open source fog

I like to write a Halloween-theme article or blog every year, and this year, there is no shortage of costuming and character portrayal from vendors turning up in places you’d never expect them.

The free operating system vendor? That would be Red Hat or Novell with Linux, right? Oh wait, behind that Azure mask is … it’s Microsoft, looking to give the market an OS available on demand? Well, at least until it comes out with a commercial release of Azure sometime in the second half of next year.

Oh and speaking of Microsoft, here comes someone wearing desktop dominance. Hold on … it’s not Microsoft. It’s Linux, which is using faster boot times and netbooks to inch its way toward mainstream desktop deployment, according to Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin, who has another good post about Linux in emerging models.

Another proprietary software for configuring, monitoring and managing servers would not be so remarkable if it wasn’t intended for Linux. Yet this is the case with Canonical’s Landscape software, which is included with some functionality for free in the latest Ubuntu distribution, but is also a link to paid support from Canonical.

Smartphones sure are getting more fun, and treating users to more tricks, but it’s been downright scary for mobile industry stalwarts such as Motorola, which is looking more to Linux, nor Nokia, which is open sourcing Symbian. This Halloween is marked instead by dueling ads and efforts for smartphones from … Apple with iPhone and Google with Android and G1. These players are certainly stirring some mischief in mobile.

All of this Halloween foolery just goes to show how the lines around what is open source, what is proprietary and who is selling what continue to blur. Happy Halloween.

Motorola going leaner with mobile Linux, Android

Motorola is reportedly trimming its work force, something that would not normally be particularly notable given the company’s stiff competition from Research in Motion (RIM), Apple’s iPhone and others, as well as the difficult economy. However, according to a Wall Street Journal report, Motorola is also narrowing its focus to the Linux-based, Google Android OS. While we might expect Motorola, which is a member of the Android-centered Open Handset Alliance, to be working on Android phones, the device manufacturer has historically focused on lower end feature phones and other operating systems.

Motorola is not alone in its mobile Linux focus and the OHA is not the only mobile Linux effort to attract significant attention and investment from a variety of players, including chipmakers, handset makers, software developers and providers, wireless carriers and services companies. Another group that is also focused on a more unified mobile Linux environment and effort is LiMO. Although many, including us, have been skeptical of mobile Linux consortia the likes of which we have seen before, LiMO has managed to attract significant members, release software and get phones in the market (though limited mainly to Asia). Still, between the membership of the OHA and LiMO and considering vendors that belong to both — Broadcom, LG, Motorola, NTT DoCoMo, Samsung, Texas Instruments, Wind River and others — it’s clear that there is unprecedented focus on and investment in mobile Linux. Another recent indicator of the rising significance of mobile Linux: Motorola and fellow OHA member Qualcomm were among those recruiting Linux developers at the recent Linux Plumbers Conference.

We also hear from a variety of mobile vendors, particularly outside the U.S., that there is a general move toward openness in the mobile industry. The mobile industry has always been forced to be more open — with code and APIs more readily available compared to enterprise software in general — but now we see open standards and flexibility winning over wireless carriers, hardware manufacturers and others eager to spur and speed device and application development. We asked recently whether mobile open source software players would learn from the more closed approach of other players, and this is included in a pending CAOS long report on mobile open source. One thing seems clear now from Motorola’s latest moves and the consortia we’ve mentioned here: the answer for many vendors seeking a response to the upheaval of the iPhone and the race toward innovative, Internet-enabled smartphones that are still affordable is mobile Linux.