IBM, Samsung, ARM Partnership Pushes Linux Smartphones

The Linaro joint venture will develop common tools and low-level OS code to attract developers to the now-fragmented mobile Linux market.
Chip designer ARM and five of its major partners have formed a joint venture to tackle the headache of trying to develop smartphone processors for the many incompatible versions of the mobile Linux operating system.

Linaro, a non-profit software engineering company launched Thursday, will develop tools and low-level OS code that would be common to ARM-based system-on-chip products, organizers said. Such technology is expected to attract developers by making it easier for them to dedicate more resources to the user interface and other higher-level software that make their products stand out to consumers.

Tackling the fragmentation in the mobile Linux market could help the open source OS compete against other OSes, such as Microsoft's upcoming Windows Phone 7, Apple's iPhone OS, Research In Motion's BlackBerry OS and Nokia's Symbian.

Linux versions today include LiMo, backed by some handset makers and wireless operators; MeeGo, developed by Nokia and Intel; Palm's WebOS, which is expected to be acquired by Hewlett-Packard this year; and Google's Android, the most widely used Linux-derivative in smartphones. Such OSes can also be adapted for other mobile devices, such as the emerging category of tablet-style computers, such as the Apple iPad.

The number of Linux-based mobile phones in general has been growing. In the first quarter, their market share rose to 14% from 8.5% the same period a year ago, according to Gartner. On smartphones, Android is the fourth most widely used OS, after Symbian, RIM and Apple.

Joining ARM in Linaro are Freescale Semiconductor, IBM, Samsung, ST-Ericsson and Texas Instruments. By launching the joint venture, the companies are also gearing up for a pending battle in the mobile arena with Intel.

The world's largest chipmaker dominates the PC market, and is working hard to catch up with ARM in the mobile market. Intel is constantly raising the performance while lowering the power consumption of its Atom processor and is likely to have a competitive smartphone platform next year.

Among the advantages Intel touts about its platform is that PC developers working on its x86 chips in PCs will be able to ramp up quickly in building applications for the same architecture in smartphones and other mobile devices.

Linaro is scheduled to release its first package of software and tools in November. The release will be aimed at the ARM Cortex-A family of processors.

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