Live from Amsterdam: Day 2 Observations from the 2006 Inaugural Open Source in Mobile Event

The audience was a little lighter today. I guess that’s to be
expected since we are in Amsterdam and there just might be some other
distractions this fun city has to offer.

Today’s sessions started out with a bang by continuing the
fragmentation theme. The first two presenters were from .orgs focused
on establishing standards in the mobile Linux industry: LiPS, (Linux in Phone Standards) followed by OSDL MLI,
the Mobile Linux Initiative. These two .orgs communicated a noticeably
different approach to solving the Linux mobile phone solution versus
what we heard from the X Foundation yesterday.
It was interesting to hear both standards representatives zero in on
the fact the Telco industry, as it stands today, was defined by
standards. The LiPS representative even posed the very question I was
pondering: “How can you have a Linux mobile phone without telecom
standards?” Anyone out there who can offer up a compelling answer?  It
was clear from the LiPS and OSDL MLI presentations that they have
defined their focus areas and have created standards initiatives that
are very complimentary to each other. LiPS is focusing on the
middleware and application layers. OSDL MLI is focusing on the kernel.

Nokia gave a presentation that highlighted  their  MaEmo
project.  This project is a community designed around contributing to
the open source stack of the Nokia 770.  Their solution uses the Gnome user interface.
Speaking of Gnome, yesterday, I mentioned Gnome’s sponsorship of the
event. I finally figured out why Gnome is at the conference: Gnome now
has a new mobile initiative that is designed to provide a GUI, GTK, and
gstreamer for smart phones.

During the course of the two days another common thread I heard was
that open source software is not only “just good enough”, the common
myth, but that it is “better” than proprietary RTOS solutions. These
comments actually came from the handset manufacturers themselves. The
presenter from Nokia claimed that Linux and the open source Linux
software was of very good overall quality. The presenter from Panasonic
said that he had 0 errors per 1000 lines of open source code vs. 20-30
errors with his internal proprietary software. Clearly this result is
one of the driving factors for why companies are moving to Linux, not
just for Mobile but for all vertical markets.

Needless to say, everyone in the industry is trying to establish
their value. The concept of the value line came up in every discussion.
However, there was not consensus to where the value line falls. Most
opinions including OSDL’s, was that adding value below the line is
really equivalent to forking the code and can have significant
consequences. While some vendors want you to believe it can have
significant value add, in the long run it can have detrimental
consequences to staying current with the Linux community and remaining
“open”.

The vast majority of mobile phones have more than one processor. One
for base-band or modem communications and the other for application
processing. There was a session where a handful of speakers from
various software and hardware companies talked about single core
solutions for mobile phones. It was clear that this single core
solution is really targeted to the mid-to-low end feature phones and
that designs for these phones are just now being done. Price is
extremely important in these phones where the BOM must be controlled.
Processors are faster now and can probably manage the modem control and
application control areas without too much impact to performance. It’s
the hard real time capability for Linux that will be a key success
factor for how Linux will address this market. RT is paramount to the
performance of these stacks. One solution discussed was by VirtualLogix
(formerly Jaluna). They talked about their virtualization solution for
Linux single-core phones. This solution essentially separated the modem
control and the application control into different partitions using the
RTOS to control the modem processes. We also heard from Purple Labs, a
solution stack provider based in France.  They designed a stack
specifically designed for mid-to-low end feature phones. They see a
huge opportunity for Linux in this space. This solution appears to be
yet-another- stack I’ve seen in the last two days. I think we’re now up
to at least 8 different solutions stacks based on Linux.

As the event winds down, it is pretty evident momentum is building.
There seems to be lots of VC money being thrown at small startups
creating point solutions and all the semi-conductor vendors – ARM, TI,
Freescale – are all positioning and investing in Linux. Plenty of
initiatives are underway targeting mobile phones. But the one big
takeaway for me was how everyone wants to lead. Every company or
organization talked about taking the lead on this initiative or that
project so therefore THEY must be THE leader.

Well, if everyone is leading, who is following?  If everyone is
leading with a different solution, then it is no wonder we have
fragmentation. As I see it, we are failing to galvanize on a particular
solution, whether it be a solution for graphics, java or telephony.
There is not one single big solution that we can all rally around. The
fall out is that there is no real community driving toward
interoperability and standards for mobile phones from a holistic
perspective. But what we do have evolving is a community of small
individual communities being built around the different implementations
for each component of the solution stack.