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Consumer Electronics Giants Form Linux Forum

Building on an alliance established in December to collaborate on the development of open source operating system Linux for digital consumer electronics, partners Sony and Matsushita Electric Industrial (Panasonic) Tuesday brought together six other firms to create the CE Linux Forum (CELF).

Sony and Matsushita, together with NEC, Royal Philips Electronics, Samsung, Sharp and Toshiba said they envision CELF as a platform for discussing and formalizing the requirements for extensions to a Linux platform geared to consumer electronics (CE) devices. Those could include cell phones, PDAs, set-top boxes, Internet radios, residential gateways, automotive telematics, even Karaoke machines and other audio/visual devices.

IBM , which over the past few years has turned itself into a champion of enterprise Linux, is also falling behind the effort. CELF said IBM is pursuing membership and plans to be an active participant in the forum.

CELF said it will publish requirements for Linux extensions, and will accept and evaluate open source solutions that support the published requirements. CELF will also take a lead in promoting Linux for consumer electronics.

Its initial goals include improving startup and shutdown time, improving Linux's real-time capabilities, reducing ROM/RAM size requirements, and improving the efficiency of power management.

The initial alliance between Sony and Matsushita was geared to jointly developing an enhanced Linux platform for digital home electronic devices.

Sony is no stranger to using Linux for consumer electronics. It has already released a Linux Kit for its Playstation 2 game console, and utilized Linux as the operating system of its CoCoon series of products. CoCoon, which stands for COnnected COmmunity On Network, encompasses gateway devices with large capacity hard disks and broadband connectivity -- including WEGA televisions, the aforementioned Playstation 2 console, personal video recorders (PVR), VAIO computers, and "mobile devices" like phones.

The PVR version, launched in Japan in November, allows the user to set preferences by selecting from 44 keywords, and the device can then access information online and record television programs matching those preferences. The device is capable of analyzing previous user choices and items stored on its hard disk to tailor the user profile.

CELF is not alone in seeing a future for Linux in consumer electronics devices. Embedded Linux specialist MontaVista Software, which already has more than 100 consumer electronics device companies as partners -- including CELF members Sony, Panasonic, NEC, and Toshiba America -- released a distribution created especially for consumer electronics devices earlier this year.

MontaVista Linux Consumer Electronics Edition 3.0 came out of the gate in January with support for Texas Instruments' OMAP 1510 and OMAP5910 processors and the IBM PowerPC 405LP processor. Support for additional processing platforms is planned, and MontaVista is also moving forward with solution stacks from its software partners aimed at key consumer electronics markets.

Motorola subsidiary MetroWerks, Red Hat and LynuxWorks are also playing in the embedded Linux space.