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Linux Sidelined in Intel's Mobile Future

Intel is riding the Linux bandwagon into the desktop, server room and data center, but the chip-making giant may be under-serving the mobile worker in 2010.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company has been on the road of late, outlining its vision of the mobile office worker a mere six years from now. A demonstration viewed by internetnews.com and other press and analysts last week followed a typical field worker as he wirelessly maneuvered his way through airports, coffee kiosks, customer calls and overnight hotel accommodations. The scenario depends heavily on three elements: a Centrino-enabled notebook, a multi-band mobile phone and a Bluetooth headset.

Anand Chandrasekher, Intel vice president and general manager of its Mobile Platforms Group, said Intel's chips can power and best optimize all three pieces of the puzzle -- especially in the notebook space -- but it is not necessary for its XScale processors to be present in the handset or the headset.

"While some of the elements of this demonstration are already available, others are a few years out," he said.

One of those technologies happens to be the operating system. Chandrasekher said key to the 2010 recipe is Microsoft's next-generation operating system, code-named Longhorn. Commercial versions of the OS are not due until 2006, but already Intel and Microsoft are collaborating on a few areas to make the systems run together, including the BIOS layer; Intel's client security technology, code-named LaGrande; and its anti-buffer overflow technology, the Trusted Platform Module (TPM).

So what about the current versions of desktop and embedded Linux as alternatives? Chandrasekher told internetnews.com he didn't think that would happen until well after the Intel/Microsoft combination came to fruition.

"They [the Linux distributions] are just not there yet," he said. "I don't know what it would take to get them up to speed with where we are with Microsoft, but it will take a lot of work to get to that point."

Your Mobile Office in 2010

According to Intel, the future mobile worker is able to traverse multiple wireless hotspots to perform tasks such as placing VoIP calls , managing client information, fighting viruses and recharging batteries -- without doing much more than walking around and clicking a few buttons.

"Imagine what would happen if mobile computing were truly seamless, fully connected, fully charged and fully functional?" Chandrasekher asked.

In the demonstration example, the mobile office worker could use the integrated VoIP and Bluetooth headset to give commands to the laptop, which automatically connects to a context-aware CRM application. The worker later watches a DVD in low-power mode and installs a virus patch via the operating system, which runs in the background. The constant connection is supplied by a bevy of co-existing wireless standards including 3G, WCDMA, UMTS, 802.11 (Wi-Fi), 802.16 (WiMAX), Ultra Wideband (UWB) and RFID.

Intel's demonstration also included recharging the laptop by placing it atop a specially designed table at a Starbucks kiosk.

Can the Penguin Fly?

Logically, the mobile office worker could run Linux in all of the key elements of Chandrasekher's vision.

This is not to say that Intel has no vested interest in mobile Linux. The No. 1 chipmaker has a well-established relationship with MontaVista Software to power its XScale processors. Sunnyvale, Calif.-based MontaVista makes a Consumer Electronics Edition that targets Intel's "Bulverde" processors.

Already, enterprise Linux runs on the desktop. HP even went so far as to debut its first laptop shipping with Linux this week.

For the handset, MontaVista's Consumer Electronics Edition is complimented by its Professional Edition. Version 3.0 of the software addresses Intel's handset chips like the PXAx series 210, 250, and 261, as well as its communications processors like its IXPx family (1200/2400/2800).

Even Intel has white papers suggesting that mobile applications built with its tools can use a debug monitor (such as Redboot) to run applications, or can be targeted for an OS Environment (Linux). The GnuPro tools are designed to work on three different host types: Microsoft Windows NT, Red Hat Linux and Sun Solaris.

"If you were targeting Linux, you would have to use inline assembly with operand constraints. Running the modified code on a PocketPC device with Preload enabled (distance = 4), you obtain the following the VTune analyzer," the white paper said.

But Chandrasekher said for now Intel remains more committed to Microsoft for its mobile enterprise customers.