RealTime IT News

Motorola Takes Linux to Mobile Task

Linux is coming to a phone near you soon if Motorola has anything to say about it. According to a company executive, the cell phone giant is now positioning Linux to be its default platform for innovation.

Motorola has been using Linux on its cell phones since 2003 when it released its A760 device.

Mark VandenBrink, senior director and chief architect of mobile devices software at Motorola, told internetnews.com that Motorola first started to look at Linux as a possibility back in 2001.

VandenBrink noted that there are a number of reasons why Motorola started to use Linux and continues to do so. First among those reasons is cost.

It's not just about Linux's reduced cost of acquisition or the lack of a royalty cost, either, said VandenBrink. It's also about the fact that the principal chip manufacturers -- Texas Instruments, Qualcomm and Freescale -- support Linux. The silicon vendors' support helps Motorola lower its engineering costs.

The same is true for mobile phone applications. Vendors such as Opera and Macromedia have Linux ports in the market.

"So there were no startup costs associated with it and that helped us with our startup cost for developing phones," VandenBrink said.

Linux is also helpful to Motorola for sales cycles that tend to be season in the cell phone business and that vary by geography. While Symbian or Microsoft have relatively static release cycles, VandenBrink explained that Linux provides Motorola with the flexibility it needs to meets seasonality demands.

Features are top of mind for Motorola's cell phone business. Linux provides Motorola with capabilities that other operating systems aren't.

"There is nobody telling you with Linux that you can't have feature a,b,c or d," VandenBrink said. "If you want to do an innovative application you can find people that will want to make it happen and you can put it in.

"It isn't a closed environment where someone controls the roadmap."

Motorola does not currently break down its phone shipments or model availability based on operating system. There are, however, at least six Motorola models currently shipping based on Linux, including the Apple iTunes enabled ROCKR E2.

Linux development isn't necessarily happening at the expense of other operating systems used by Motorola. VandenBrink said that the core of Motorola's strategy is to do most of its innovation on top of Linux.

"We don't see Linux as taking away from any of the others," he said. "It's just that as we do more and more innovative things we tend to do those first on Linux."

There are a few challenges yet to overcome for further Linux deployment on Motorola's cell phones. VandenBrink commented that one of the challenges is for Linux to have a smaller memory footprint, below 16 MB. The Linux kernel itself isn't the issue, it's more so the various supporting libraries and frameworks that need to be size-optimized.

Power management is another issue.

"Linux has a decent notion of power management on the laptop but on a phone it's more complicated," VandenBrink said.

Motorola's success criteria for its Linux efforts are straightforward: to get to a point where nobody cares.

"When it becomes that successful and that ubiquitous for people just to assume that, of course, it runs Linux, that's what cell phones run that would be the criteria for what success would be."