Mini-Editorial: The Missed Opportunity of Linux

The future is mobile. That much we know for sure. But it seems that the operating system world in this market is being rapidly taken over by –again– Microsoft. The new smart phones are are using WinCE, Symbian or Palm. Linux has barely 1% of this new, smartphone market.If Linux visionaries had seen the writing on the wall in early 2000 (e.g. MontaVista, Red Hat’s embedded division and even Familiar) and contribute towards a united, powerful, usable and most importantly, properly marketed Linux phone/PDA edition, things might have been different now.

The desktop operating system door was already closed with the release of Windows 95 in 1995. Alternative OSes can work hard to capture 4-5% of the global market share but they will never manage to overcome the legacy of Windows and its monopoly — for well-known reasons that have been discussed everywhere and by everyone.

But the phone OS door was open. It was wide open and it was waiting for its next big predator. And Microsoft jumped into the opportunity taking over PalmOS year after year and Symbian is next.

Where was Linux all this time? Is the fact that Linux is driven by hobbyists had a role to play to this strict embedded market that has its own rules and needs? Or is it the moderately high requirements of Linux (at least 208 Mhz, 32 MB RAM) put a dead stop to integrators while PalmOS/Symbian/WinCE can run on 104 Mhz (or less) in full graphics mode with minimum memory requirements at 8-16 MB?

Here are a few new features coming next month with Windows Mobile 2005 according to MSMobiles:

* Powered by Windows CE 5.x not by Windows CE 4.x as the second edition
* .NET Compact Framework 2.0 pre-installed
* No distinction between smartphone and Pocket PC – Windows Mobile will run both Pocket PC 2003 and Smartphone 2003 programs
* direct support for Qwerty keyboards, so that new products from HTC, Motorola, HP and Samsung will be better usable just through the Qwerty keyboard
* support for new push functionalities of Exchange, but not only for e-mails but also for contacts and calendar events
* Wi-Fi support for smartphones (devices without touch screen)
* “Storage” – a place in memory that doesn’t dissapear even without battery – now will be available also for Pocket PC
* improved Pocket office applications like Excel and Word; Pocket PowerPoint added
* improved Windows Media Player 10

Symbian 9.0 comes with a slew of new features too, and PalmOS has always version 6.1 under its sleeve, just in case. Where is Linux (or QNX for that matter) right now? Why has no company stepped up to really help Familiar optimize/develop mobile Linux further and make it a better contender? Linux is more powerful than any of these other phone OSes, what it needs is polishing and real backing behind it with a serious-enough company to drive the way ahead by creating a powerful mobile distro.


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