Intel's $11.5 Million Taiwanese Investment Puts Moblin OS In Netbooks

The chipmaker's partnership with VMax could help set the stage for a wide rollout of WiMax-capable machines running on Linux in the country with PC makers Asustek and Acer to benefit.
Intel on Thursday said it reached an agreement with the Taiwanese government to establish a development center for helping hardware vendors get Intel's Linux-based Moblin operating system in netbooks and other mobile Internet devices.

In addition, Intel President and Chief Executive Paul Otellini said the company's investment arm, Intel Capital, intended to invest $11.5 million in Taiwanese carrier VMax to help deploy its first WiMax network, which is expected to be commercially available in the first half of next year. Intel is a major supporter of WiMax, a fourth-generation wireless broadband technology.

Within netbooks, defined as sub-$500 notebooks with displays 10 inches or less, Windows XP is gaining a lot of traction. Vendors also offer Linux versions, but Moblin is not a major player. Intel is hoping to change that in Taiwan, which is home to Asustek and Acer, two of the biggest producers of the mini-notebooks.

Intel is pushing Moblin because the open-source OS has been optimized for the chipmaker's Atom, a low-power processor targeted at mobile devices. Taiwan's Moblin Enabling Center's laboratory and engineers will be used to train and consult device and software vendors on Moblin-based devices powered by Atom.

Intel Capital's investment in VMax reflects Intel's focus on accelerating the deployment of WiMax globally. Through Intel Capital, the chipmaker has invested in 30 WiMax technology companies and service providers, according to Intel. "WiMax is a key component of Intel's strategy to enable the truly mobile Internet," Otellini said in a statement. "Intel Capital's investment in VMax positions it to deliver Taiwan's first 4G wireless network."

That may be so, but WiMax supporters will have to move fast in their deployments, if they plan to be competitive with coming Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology that's been embraced by AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which are the two largest wireless carriers in the United States. Though the technology lags behind WiMax in maturity and won't be available for at least two years, LTE would be an upgrade of the current cellular network, rather than requiring a whole new network to be built.

WiMax's coverage area to date is still very small, and the technology is just getting started in the United States. Sprint this month launched WiMax service in Baltimore, the first city that the carrier says will eventually become a nationwide network. WiMax deployments are also underway by other companies in other states, such as Vermont and Kansas.

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