What is Linux?
Linux is a free or ‘open source’ computer software operating system (OS). The underlying source code can be used, adapted and shared by anyone. It’s low cost and the ease with which it can be modified has made it increasingly popular in embedded systems, such as smartphones.
How is it being used for mobiles?
A number of manufacturers are using the Linux kernel and then adding proprietary user interface software on top to customise their device. Two of the most popular adaptations so far are Google’s Android system and the LiMo Foundation. The latter has produced over 40 Linux powered devices through Motorola, NEC, Panasonic and Samsung, including the new Vodafone 360 H1 (pictured, left) and M1. Nokia has adapted it for its Maemo OS, used on the upcoming N900 (pictured, right).
What effect has this had on the market?
Linux has opened up more competition in the battle between OSs, which intensified with the advent of the smartphone. The OS fight is about open versus closed. At one end is Apple, which has a tight control on its OS and the apps that are ported to it. At the other end are the various Linux based systems. Android, despite its ‘open access’ claim, is considered by developers to be mostly controlled, while Nokia’s Maemo, although still partly controlled, is seen as being more open.
What does the open versus controlled debate mean in terms of apps?
Apple’s controlled approach is about ensuring the quality of the apps. The LiMo and Maemo open approach is more about quantity. By opening it up to thousands of developers, the latter believes it will foster innovation and develop more products. Apps developers need to decide which end of the spectrum they want to work in.
Where do the operators fit in?
It’s a question of who you think has the power in the market. Apple is very operator unfriendly, but it is the most successful apps source, so does it matter if you don’t cosy up to the operators? Android is targeting the handset manufacturers and uploading its system in the factory, as it thinks they will control a lot of the market.
Maemo is more operator friendly and is targeting the networks for own-brand devices. LiMo does not offer its own apps store, so it is not a rival to the operators’ own apps store ambitions.
Which OS is going to win?
It’s a hard one to call, but Gartner’s latest predictions for OS market share by 2012 still puts Symbian on top with 39% of the market, Android second with 14.5%, Apple third with 13.7% and Windows Mobile fourth with 12.8%. BlackBerry is fifth with 12.8%, various Linux devices are sixth with 5.4% and Palm Inc’s webOS is seventh with 2.1%. The big mover is Android, moving from sixth to second.