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June 9, 2008

Mobile Linux: The Best Choice for Smartphones?

by @ 10:14 am. Filed under embedded, General Linux, My Opinion

Explain to me the draw people have to technology. Lacking psychology credentials (other than psychosis), I would be unqualified to expound in great detail. That said, there are a few things that I have noticed about people and their attitudes towards computers and other types of electronics. Based on these attitudes and some current trends, I wanted to provide a type of forecast. Where are things going with regards to electronics and the embedded operating systems that run them?

Concepts of Consideration

To start off, let’s consider the concept of convergence. To put this simply, people love combining functionality of stuff. Take cars for example. Take me from point A to point B. Primary function: transportation. Well, except if it’s 132 degrees outside, then it’s too hot. Put me an air conditioner in there. OK, now we have a duality of purpose: transportation and comfort. Oh, wait. If I am driving from Barrow, Alaska to Punta Arenas, Chile, I will get very, very bored. So, could we throw me a radio into my car, too? My kids will get bored with my music, so give them a DVD player for the back. And let’s have GPS, and a radar detector. All of a sudden, we have convergence of several different technologies into one product. People like to combine things.

Next point, we’ll consider a couple of different types of computer users. As an example of the first type, we’ll make up someone called Michael. He likes to play it a little safe, stay in his comfort zone. His philosophy is to go with whatever you know. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. He doesn’t like to waste time trying to figure things out. Our fast-paced (and gaining momentum) society encourages users like Michael. Take the tools that you know, and get productive right now.

For my second type of user, we’ll make up someone called Duran. He doesn’t like to be restricted with his options. He likes to be free to choose and do what he wants. He doesn’t mind tinkering with hardware or software to get it working the way that fits his needs. He doesn’t mind taking some time to learn about how things work. After all, this does give experience in the future.

Michael was likely raised using Windows, just because of sheer statistics and probability. This means that he will want to continue using Windows and would likely be hesitant to change, because Windows fulfills his current needs. His first reaction to Linux will be to reject it on account of its reputation of being hard to use. Besides, it’s different, and that means a learning curve. Michael is not interested. What he has and does works for him already, why change?

Duran, on the other hand, doesn’t care about learning new things. As soon as he hears that there’s a free operating system called Linux that may just do what he needs it to, he immediately looks into it. After a bit he gets it up and running. After a month or two, he finds that he can make it do everything he needs it to. He may have to work with it a bit, but he is all good with hands-on. He begins using Linux exclusively.

What has happened, now? Let’s consider it for a second. Michael doesn’t even know all that Linux has to offer, because he doesn’t have enough experience with it. He still prefers his comfort zone, and is resistant to change. He continues doing what works for him, and paying a healthy amount for these privileges. Windows isn’t free.

Now if we think about it, Duran now has the benefits of both situations, without the drawbacks of the first. Remember, the first type of person likes a comfort zone, likes to go with what you know, and just get productive. This is Michael. Duran now has a comfort zone in Linux and knows how to be productive with it. He gets the benefits of Michael’s situation without the restrictions. He also gets the benefits of being able to set things up however he wants because of the options available to him. Duran grows and learns and becomes more productive as Michael stays the same, a slave to his resistence to change.

For a long time, Linux has definitely been too hard for a regular computer user. You know the type, they check email and surf the Internet. Why spend 3 months learning a new operating system just to do that? For most of its life, Linux has been for the hard-core techies only. This is not the case anymore. Read the latest reviews of Ubuntu, Fedora, or OpenSUSE. They are more point-and-click than they have ever been. Linux is now moving over into the realm of Michael. More and more things just work, less and less time figuring out how to get stuff working. Applications are getting much easier to use (OpenOffice, Firefox, Thunderbird). Just install and begin working. In many cases, LiveCDs even allow us to omit the installation, giving us the power to be immediately productive.

We have the principle of convergence, the concept of going with what works, and the concept of freedom of choice.

In-house or Pre-packaged?

What happens when a company needs a software application? They have two choices: develop it in-house, or buy something pre-packaged.

In-house development means that the company has to allocate time and financial resources to develop and test the software. Most of the time, reasons for in-house development stem from a desire to customize it to the exact needs of the company. However, it becomes very expensive in terms of time and money. In the end, the in-house application may or may not be of the same commercial quality as the pre-packaged solution. Likely, it isn’t (possible, but usually isn’t).

The problem with propietary, off-the-shelf software is that it’s much less customizable to the company’s needs. They have to wait on the vendor for security updates. They don’t have access to the code to change things around as they wish.

The choice then becomes one of two things: Spend a lot of time and money to develop a decent in-house customizable solution, or purchase a well-developed commercial solution immediately but is not nearly as customizable?

Let’s complicate this situation. The software will be embedded to power an electronic device, such as a mobile phone.

This is the situation that many mobile carriers find themselves in right now. Verizon has usually just flashed their own OS onto the phones sold to their customers. They spent a bunch of time and money to develop a mediocre operating system that fills the need. Decent, easy enough to use, but charge a bunch for extra features.

Cellular providers like Verizon need an embedded operating system. So far, the pre-packaged solutions haven’t really been up to snuff for many users, especially the technology-savvy. In-house solutions have been lacking, as well. And remember the convergence concept? Customers are now demanding ever more functionality from their cell phones that is currently not possible for many cellular carriers. The current Michaels are fine with what there is. The Durans, however, are going crazy.

These companies need something that already exists, that is tested, proven, and covers the basics. They need something that won’t cost them precious time and money to develop, and will end up being better than what they’d end up delivering anyway. They need something that they can take and modify to fit their needs, and embed it into their phones. Then, they don’t have to gouge the customers for the cost of the development for the OS, and can sell phones that have more functionality for less money. They should also leave the OS open for developers. This will allow people to fill their own demand, as has occurred with Linux as it stands. Then, the Michaels and the Durans will both be happy.

Michael can take it standard as it comes and just use it as it is.

Duran can get into it, install and remove ringtones and wallpapers. He can install and remove software as he wishes.

Verizon’s Strategies

Now apparently, I’m not totally off my rocker on this, because of Verizon’s recent activities. They have recently appeared on the LiMo Foundation’s member list (obviously not a small list)

. The purpose of the LiMo Foundation, from their site:

“LiMo Foundation is an industry consortium dedicated to creating the first truly open, hardware-independent, Linux-based operating system for mobile devices. Backing from major industry leaders puts LiMo at the Heart of the Mobile Industry and makes LiMo the unifying force in Mobile Linux.”

“The mission of the LiMo Foundation is to create an open, Linux-based software platform for use by the whole global industry to produce mobile devices through a balanced and transparent contribution process enabling a rich ecosystem of differentiated products, applications, and services from device manufacturers, operators, ISVs and integrators.”

Verizon’s entrance into the LiMo Foundation is only one thing they’ve done. How about their Any App, Any Device initiative? Essentially, anyone can develop any hardware and have it certified by Verizon. How does Verizon accomplish the Any App part? By using Linux. The LiMo foundation gives them this.

And how would they make this possible? How about the C Block of the 700MHz spectrum that Verizon won? Combine all this, and we are going to see some sick hardware and software spew forth onto the scene. Convergence, remember? Maybe we’ll finally have videophones?

Virtual Reality Enemy Territory LAN Party over the C Block of the 700MHz spectrum of Verizon’s network, anyone?

Think Verizon’s the only one who knows all this? AT&T walked away with a chunk of the 700MHz spectrum, too. You think the current 3G networks are cool? Verizon and AT&T are both developing 4G networks.

Forget about whether open source is going to happen, or whether Linux will appear on more than just PCs. It’s already happening. Looks like it might be a good time for those who dig open source stuff to consider Verizon, or any other carriers supporting Android or LiMo.

Forget about whether open source is going to happen, or whether Linux will appear on more than just PCs. It’s already happening, and fast.

Looks like it might be a good time for those who dig open source stuff to consider Verizon, or any other carriers supporting Android or LiMo.

And if you are already using Verizon, I have a free 53-page ebook available on how to get the very most out of being their customer. This ebook makes Verizon’s current phone OS feel like it’s already open source. Plus, it can save you over $300 in accessories and other stuff.

The Future

Let’s take it further.

How long until we have an open-source main-stream gaming console designed for Linux? I was looking at a 1080p PS3 game the other day. Power something like that with Linux.

What about computers in vehicles? We currently have GPS systems. What about throwing Linux on there? Put a Media center in it (mythtv?) along with some open source GPS software. If people want to make it even better, let them. Then, let everyone else have the software updates free.

Even more, how long until we can make an Any App, Any Device appliance that certifies with Verizon that does ALL of the above?

Proprietary OSes cannot keep up with the demand for diversity. People want too many different things right now. And when the proprietary OSes can deliver something, security and stability are the first things to go, as we have seen with what comes out of Redmond.

Open Source can keep up because there are unlimited amounts of people who can work on it. If someone wants something bad enough that isn’t currently provided, they can write it themselves if it’s an open platform.

Gates and MS have been going almost 30 years. Linux has been in development just more than half that, and it’s good enough to be displacing hundreds of thousands of MS desktops. When Linux has in production for 30 years, we’ll compare it to how much Windows developed in 30 years.

Can proprietary work with mobile phones? Obviously.

Will further progress be made faster by everyone working together? Absolutely no doubt. The costs of the initial development of the OS drop drastically. Customers get what they want, making it easier to add whatever they want (which they will, anyway). Michael gets something that’s easy to use, and Duran gets something that he can hack to his heart’s content.

Blow me off if I’m totally crazy. But honestly, we have seen Mobile Linux predictions before.


People want something that will just work for them and do what they expect. Other people want options and configurability. Linux is very rapidly approaching the ability to provide both of these. People also want to have their PDA, phone, MP3 player, and GPS all on one device. Linux has the potential for doing all of this. And people are in love with mobile phones. Linux on mobile phones is what will make all of this work. So there’s my prediction, and where it comes from.

2 Responses to “Mobile Linux: The Best Choice for Smartphones?”

  1. Herbert Says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more – lately, Linux has been getting more and more user-friendly, while retaining its sense of customizability. I just started using Ubuntu last week – and I find it just as easy to use as Windows (actually it looks even better).

    However, just one comment; in my opinion, LiMo does sound like a great operating system for more budget-friendly phones, but with Windows Mobile and the emergence of Google Android introduced into smartphones, I think it’ll be harder to popularize LiMo amongst the smartphones.

  2. Scott Morris Says:

    Actually, Google Android is a Linux-based solution… and a good one at that. LiMo and Android are two very good solutions. Linux in general, I think, has a very bright future in the smartphone sector. Thanks for stopping by!

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