Mobile Linux as a dominant OS

Dear Mr Purdy,
this is an open letter and it will be posted in my blog. Allow me to start abruptly and say that your article does not make any sense. From one side you are saying that Java is not good enough because “phones are too different”, but you then say that Linux will fix this? How? There are SIX different Linux mobile-phone implementations so far. NONE of these 6 implementations are compatible! When a developer is going to create a graphical application to run on a Linux phone (e.g. a Motorola/Montavista phone), his application will NOT work without full porting to another Linux phone (e.g. a PalmSource/Access phone). Only the kernel is the same and some system libraries (and not necessarily binary compatible either), but the graphics on top are completely different and so developers must program using different toolkits all the time. In most cases this will be as laborious as porting a graphical application from Windows Mobile to PalmOS. Sure, porting Apache or recompiling wget will probably be easier, but cellphone consumers don’t care about server or command line software.

You write: “Economically, I believe all of the current mobile OS vendors will come to realize that the value in the total offering is in the services and applications not in the OS kernel and, as a result, will shift their offerings to become value added suppliers to the Linux ecosystem.”

While I don’t necessarily argue that Linux will become the dominant mobile OS, I do argue that the result will be homogeneous. It won’t. If we assume that 90% of all smartphones in 2015 are Linux-based, this would mean something *like* this: Motorola might have a 25%, Access a 20%, Trolltech a 10%, DoCoMo Linux another 5%, Mizi/Samsung Linux another 25%, and OSDL’s version about 5%. So, how is this any better from what the fragmented mobile OS market that we got today? It’s not! These systems are NOT compatible with each other! They don’t want to be compatible in fact! Each one of these Linux mobile entities thinks that they are doing the right thing and they shrug off the rest! Things are WORSE than it is today about Linux distros (which are semi-compatible) because in the mobile world, they will be fully binary incompatible. And for most apps they will be source incompatible too (at least desktop distros today are source-compatible most of the time).

So, can you please explain to me how Linux is better than Java for applications? If there was ONE implementation of GNU/Linux for phones used by different vendors, I would say, “cool, I can’t wait for such a phone”. But this is not the case because every one of these companies took Linux part by part and each are building their own car, instead of working together to build THE car.

And btw, your statement that “it seems plausible that UIQ should operate on top of Linux rather than the Symbian core to be more efficient” is way off. The Symbian kernel can’t do as well as Linux does in some areas, but this does not mean that is less efficient than Linux! Symbian was developed and architected to run well under mobile devices, albeit under-featured compared to desktop kernels. Linux was developed to be a bloody server OS that was later scaled down using a hammer and a fat lady that sat on top of it in order to make it fit on a phone. I own 3 Motorola Linux phones btw (I can send you my review URLs if you are interested): each one is at 312 Mhz, 64 MBs of RAM. And each one is considerably slower than my Windows Mobile phone at 200 Mhz and my Symbian/S60 3.0 at 220 Mhz. How many smartphone platforms have you actually tried and tested yourself?

Obviously Mr Purdy, you don’t have the knowledge required to make such assessments. You assume that companies that use Linux will create phones that are compatible with each other, while this is not the case AT ALL. I expect you correct your article ASAP because it’s misleading — or wishful thinking at best.

Rgds,
Eugenia

17 Comments »

Stefan Constantinescu wrote on January 3rd, 2007 at 10:26 AM PST:

Ha!

Well said Eugenia, I’ve had enough with reporters writing technology articles while not even understanding what it is they’re talking about.


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Eugenia wrote on January 3rd, 2007 at 10:28 AM PST:

He is actually an analyst, not a reporter… and he has a Ph.D. Two more reasons why he should have researched more before writing this article. I mean, a single interview with a Motorola or Access manager would have given him the information he needed about the Linux [non-]ecosystem.


Rick wrote on January 4th, 2007 at 1:07 AM PST:

Eugenia, I guess you kind of hit the nail on the head on why desktop linux never went anywhere.

It’s interesting that WindowsCE is completely dominating the high-end in the mobile market.

Fragmentation is always the worst enemy of open source.


insanity wrote on January 4th, 2007 at 2:28 AM PST:

This is probably also why Linux is much more popular embedded operating system then Windows…

Wait, this stuff isn’t making sense…

Ok. I try over, this time I will take a select group of devices that you find Windows on and exclude all others and I’ll call it ‘high end’ to make it impressive.


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Eugenia wrote on January 4th, 2007 at 2:32 AM PST:

Insanity, you are talking f*cking crap over here (I guess that’s why you didn’t leave an email address). The article and my rebuttal do not discuss about “embedded linux in general”, but about Linux cellphone platforms! I never said that Linux might not take over the smartphone market! What I did say though is that the result won’t be a single COMPATIBLE platform like the author suggests and falsely believes! The Linux cellphone platforms are NOT compatible with each other and there are no plans to change that in the foreseeable future. THAT’s what we discuss here, not if your Linux-based dildo is bigger than my Windows-powered one. Please make an effort to reply on topic next time.


djlosch wrote on January 4th, 2007 at 3:26 AM PST:

I currently have the motorola a1200 ming (my review), and I’ve looked into developing for it, but motorola won’t even talk to me because I’m in the US and they have “no intention of releasing it in the US”.

The trolltech greenphone is nasty, but the openmoko neo is looking particularly nice. It comes with an open SDK and will hopefully be much more open than the previous mobile linux varieties.

However, even as a linux geek, I do agree that Purdy is misguided. Any UI problem that exists for Java midlets will still existfor mLinux distros. However, unlike Java midlets, linux apps like metacity (just as an example) might be used to make UI environments, and grossly speed up the development time. Even with open mLinux distros on the market, manufacturers like Motorola won’t be quick to open their SDK for us geeks.


Greg wrote on January 4th, 2007 at 3:58 AM PST:

Just a few thoughts, surely the linux kernel (mobile or other wise) is build from the kernel source, any modification would *have* to be released under GPL, which means any drivers built for the linux kernel would (with minor tweaking) work with *any* kernel?
There may be dependencies.

Also any UI running on said kernel would require the required libraries to run. So if (for instance) your mobile ran metacity as a UI then the libraries for applications designed for metacity would have to be there also allowing the application to run.

Surely this is not as great as the linux/windows/symbian differences we currently have.

So to port an application from Joe Blow’s linux to Fred Smith’s linux we just recompile the kernel with the required modules to suit the different hardware and add dependencies or library’s.


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Eugenia wrote on January 4th, 2007 at 4:18 AM PST:

Sorry, you have a few misconceptions. Low-level phone drivers (and often wifi drivers for cellphones) are NOT open sourced. But this is not really my problem. My problem is the higher level toolkits, which are NOT open sourced either. For example, Mizi’s stack and Motorola’s EZX toolkits are NOT open sourced, therefore they can not be ported to another phone (their licenses wouldn’t allow that either, even if you would find a way to do that). Neither people want to reflash their firmwares in order to run an application from another Linux platform. Things will have to just worked and this is not currently possible. Don’t forget that these 6 linux platforms don’t use the same graphical toolkit, and except 1-2 the rest are not open sourced.


Bill Gates wrote on January 4th, 2007 at 4:49 AM PST:

You have no idea what you’re talking about.


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Eugenia wrote on January 4th, 2007 at 5:24 AM PST:

And you do. haha…


Jango wrote on January 4th, 2007 at 5:42 AM PST:

Eugenia (if that really is your real name lol) you have to understand that nothing seems to be impossible for Linux, and also there was no need to be rude.

so what if we have differing views that is still no need to insult each other.

but honestly i think i speak for a lot of people when a say that very few people still consider your “opinion” valuable or of note

if you ask me this is just another rant from anti-C++ person


Anonymous wrote on January 4th, 2007 at 6:10 AM PST:

Please note that I work for one of the mentioned companies. Just to save butt from “potential hassles”, I’m posting this anonymously.

I agree with you Eugenia.

Commercial applications/systems come with intentional incompatabilities. Sometimes it is just a pure accident. Sometimes vendors can’t share “deep implementation details” (or whatever those business people and lawyers like to call it) to make porting applications seamless due to commercial interests.

So I think Purdy is way off with the respect to portability of applications if Linux were to be used on cellphones.

Also, note that developing a kernel for cellphones don’t take much of work. It is mostly hardware drivers. Linux won’t help here.


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Eugenia wrote on January 4th, 2007 at 6:13 AM PST:

>Eugenia (if that really is your real name lol)

Are you for real?

>if you ask me this is just another rant from anti-C++ person

What the hell are you talking about?

I just hate it when complete idiots are visiting and replying on my blog. I want comments, but I want commentators who know what the hell they are talking about instead of people who talk off their ass and without understanding what they are reading.

>no need to insult each other

If you don’t want to be insulted, then re-read my rebuttal and learn how things work between the different Linux mobile platforms. If you have no such knowledge, then do NOT reply. We do not need your Linux loyalism here, we need your objective reasoning and realism.


Matt wrote on January 4th, 2007 at 7:31 AM PST:

I agree with most point you made. The linux market is going to get segmented once each company specs the linux o.s. to their phone using their libraries and basically developing their own version of the linux o.s. I think that linux is going to be huge on mobile phones, I just don’t think any one will know it…. let me explain…
What will end up happening is that Linux will be the perfect solution for the hardware companies to lower the costs for the cell phone manufacturers… I don’t think it will go anywhere on smart phones, but I think that the kernel and main components will be shared to lower cost of production… so your razr might be running linux one day, but no one will know the difference except those of us who find a copy of the gpl in the user manual… J2ME will continue to be the easiest way to write an app for many cell phones…


insanity wrote on January 4th, 2007 at 8:00 AM PST:

“nsanity, you are talking f*cking crap over here (I guess that’s why you didn’t leave an email address). The article and my rebuttal do not discuss about “embedded linux in general”, but about Linux cellphone platforms! I never said that Linux might not take over the smartphone market! What I did say though is that the result won’t be a single COMPATIBLE platform like the author suggests and falsely believes! The Linux cellphone platforms are NOT compatible with each other and there are no plans to change that in the foreseeable future. THAT’s what we discuss here, not if your Linux-based dildo is bigger than my Windows-powered one. Please make an effort to reply on topic next time.”

Don’t be so defensive all the time.

I wasn’t replying to you, I was replying to the comment directly above mine.

One of the principal reason for Linux’s success is because it’s tailorable to specific situations. The reason you have all these different things is because it’s a new item and people are trying to figure out the best approach torwards creating a Linux device like that. Not all of them are going to ultimately succeed and what you probably will end up with is 2-3 different environments targetted torwards different classes of hardware. From low-level feature phones to a full blown X/GTK environment for larger handhelds.

Also you should do some research about a person yourself before you start stating nonsense like: “He is actually an analyst, not a reporter… and he has a Ph.D. Two more reasons why he should have researched more before writing this article.”

He may not be right on all points (nobody is), but the guy has over 15 years of experiance dealing with mobile and wireless issues. He is going to know as much about the issues surrounding mobile phones and software as any other person out there.


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Eugenia wrote on January 4th, 2007 at 8:13 AM PST:

> the guy has over 15 years of experiance dealing with mobile and wireless issues.

He didn’t get this one right though, and it’s a pretty big point because his whole argument is based on the fact that he thinks that Linux will take away the current application problem on phones. I mean, take that argument away — which you agree that he is not right about– and his whole article comes into crumbles. With 15 years experience he should have known better.


Moschops wrote on January 4th, 2007 at 9:05 AM PST:

He also said:

‘In mobile phones, the OS kernel is thought of as being embedded or “underneath the covers.” The value has shifted from the OS to the services and applications.’

That rather contradicts the whole premise of his article since it strongly deemphasizes the importance of the OS.

Hw is saying what is more important are the apps – so it shouldn’t matter if the “OS” is Linux, Windows Mobile or a Java runtime, so long as the apps work well on a mobile device and use standard protocols so they can interchange data freely with other systems no matter what OS, language or hardware they are running on.

Give me a decent set of PIM apps and protocols so I can sync with Linux, Windows or whatever an I’ll be happy. The rest is window dressing AFAIK… YMMV.


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