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Linux on mobiles will put the squeeze on MS, says Zemlin

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OSCON Once it was the desktop, now mobile phones and embedded devices represent the future of Linux, according to open source fans.

Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, painted a future of Linux's manifest destiny - running everything from aerospace systems to the phone in your pocket.

According to Zemlin, Linux has 18 per cent of the embedded market, beating Windows on 16 per cent. The opportunity is in mopping up the 43.7 per cent of the embedded market that's currently using proprietary operating systems. As with the Linux desktop, though, there are just one or two challenges that must be overcome, he told the O'Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON), in Portland, Oregon.

Challenges? People also foresaw a few, ahem, "challenges" for Linux on the desktop. Worryingly, there are echoes of these same challenges for Linux in mobile and embedded. The first is the ability to build and sustain an ecosystem of applications that - on mobile phones, at least - will let handset and service providers differentiate and attract customers.

According to Zemlin, Linux lets handset and service providers differentiate through customization and to also support multiple handsets through custom engineering, as the kernel is not owned by an Apple or a Microsoft.

Also - unlike Windows - there are no royalties to pay, a factor that can distort the economics of building and selling mobile devices that have low margins.

With the notion of Apple hanging in the air, Zemlin praised the company for its iPhone and - a little prematurely, we feel, given it's only just launched - the success of the App Store. There was also a nod to Microsoft.

"App Store helped make the business around the iPhone. People love Windows because there are so may fricking applications available," Zemlin said. "One of the big challenges for Linux is to emulate that App Store ecosystem - the complete App Store ecosystem."

And therein lies the biggest challenge: licensing. Or, more precisely, the confusion that still exists among developers over what license to use and the legal restraints. According to Zemlin, this is relatively easy: all the important open source components for mobile are under GPLv2 two, and won't be moving to GPLv3.

Zemlin also returned to his recent theme of steadying any nerves over the fact Linux might face increased competition from Symbian, following Nokia's recent purchase and decision to open source code.

According to Zemlin Windows, not Linux, will get squeezed because there are now two big and freely available mobile platforms for mobile developers to chose from.

"I don't see this [open sourcing Symbian] as a big threat to mobile Linux. I see this as a big threat to Microsoft - the only other mobile vendor out there has reduced their price to zero.

"It will make it even harder for Microsoft to get developers' attention - there are now two major mobile platforms competing for attention," he said.®

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