Linux Foundation takes over Stewardship of Intel’s Moblin OS

It's said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I guess being the kind of organization that people love to leak news about might be the next.  That seems to be the case with the Linux Foundation, which for the second time in a matter of weeks has seen an enterprising reporter scoop the opposition (and our own internal planning) by releasing a story ahead of our planned schedule. Who knew that an open source foundation could attract paparazzi?

Last time, it was Steven Vaughn-Nichols announcing our acquisition of the site, and this time it's the New York Times (no less) announcing a day ahead of time the fact that the Linux Foundation has taken over stewardship of Intel's Linux-based Moblin mobile operating system.  If you've been following the mobile space for awhile, this is news worth noting, on which more below.

First of all, what exactly is Moblin?  There are several answers to that question.

  • Competitively:  Along with Google’s Android, Nokia’s Symbian and the LiMo Foundation’s Limo, Moblin is one of the major Linux-based contenders to control the mobile space.  That space includes (in ascending order of form factor) phones, network devices and netbooks.  Important note: not all of these systems was originally intended to cover the full mobile space (Moblin, incidentally, was). 
  • Architecturally:  The Moblin Architecture is designed to support multiple platforms and usage models, ranging from Netbooks to Mobile Internet Devices (MID), to various embedded usage models, such as the In Vehicle Infotainment systems. The central piece of the architecture is the common layer that we call Moblin Core, a hardware and usage model independent layer that provides one uniform way to develop such devices. Underneath Moblin Core, sits the Linux kernel and device drivers specific to the hardware platform, and above Moblin Core are the specific user interface and user interaction model for the target device. (Read more here.)
  • Developmentally:  Historically, Moblin had been under the roof, as well as the control, of Intel.  Now, Moblin’s further development will be hosted by the Linux Foundation (more details on this tomorrow, when LF issues its own press release)

That said, why move Moblin to the Linux Foundation, and why now?  The following can be found in the Times piece:

“This is a departure for Intel,” said Jim Zemlin, the executive director of the Linux Foundation. “This is a company that has the resources and internal staff to create innovative technology on their own. They obviously see Moblin as a strategic platform.”

…Mr. Zemlin is thinking that broad interest in Moblin could help spur the sales of Intel’s Atom processors, which the company has aimed at netbooks for now and all types of small devices including phones, cars, refrigerators and elevators in the future.

“It’s so hard to figure out when the next big thing will happen,” Mr. Zemlin said. “By opening it up to many people as possible, you increase your odds of participating in whatever turns out to be big.”

With Moblin in the Linux Foundation, the four Linux-based mobile OS systems become more comparable from an "openness" perspective, although important variations beyond the length constraints of this blog entry remain.  Android was launched by Google, but is now hosted by the Open Handset Alliance.  Symbian was launched by Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola and Psion through the joinly owned Symbian, Ltd., but Nokia later bought its other partners out, and the participation of other developers is today welcome via the Symbian Foundation.  Similarly, the LiMo Foundation was formed by six initial partners, with additional members joining later. 

So while the degrees of control vary from organization to organization, it makes good sense for Moblin to be hosted in a neutral environment as well.  That control won’t switch 100% day one, just as it didn’t in any of the organizations noted above when the management changed.  That’s not surprising, because, as someone who’s big in software once said, it is, after all, all about developers.  Or, as noted by Jim in the Times piece:

Intel will maintain strong control over the software since it employs the top Moblin developers. But that could change over time as outside developers show interest in the software.

“As people earn their stripes, it will open up,” Mr. Zemlin said.


As you might expect, Jim (and Intel’s Doug Fisher) have been giving a lot of interviews today as the news has spread, including to Eric Lai, over at ComputerWorld.  Details from that interview include the following:

…The Moblin open-source project already has "thousands of active developers," including an undisclosed number of Intel employees, says Doug Fisher, a vice-president in Intel’s software and services group.

Under Intel’s management, Moblin developers already had the freedom to port the OS to ARM or Nvidia’s Ion, Fisher said. However, judging by a search of the site, no such projects exist today.

While a "big percentage" of Moblin’s developers are Intel employees, Zemlin expects that to change.

"Intel gets that the most successful open-source projects are those that governed judiciously, where code is based on merit," he said. Zemlin cited the project that has been criticized by IBM and outsiders for Sun Microsystems Inc.’s continued strong grip as "a specific and good example … of what they [Intel] are trying to avoid."

Feature-wise, Zemlin touted Moblin’s power efficiency and lower price against Windows XP and Windows 7. Against Android, Zemlin points out that the smartphone OS only runs on ARM processors, and ARM-based netbooks have yet to ship.

Needless to say, things will continue to be extremely active and dynamic in the mobile space, and in particular in the Linux-based mobile space.  Clearly, a great deal of strategic commitment, an enormous number of dollars, and a great deal of hype are being lavished on this new space – and why not, with more or less a billion platforms per year (and rising) to be sold for the indefinite future, and plenty of the OS landscape still up for grabs?

While, as always, I’m not speaking for the Linux Foundation, on a personal note, it’s been fun being involved in the pre-planning of this, and it will continue to be interesting to be part of the action as the fun continues.

That’s all for now.  After all, the press release won’t be out until tomorrow.

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