By Jason Whitmire
Limo, and in a slightly different way Android, have killed the standards-based approach to open source development in mobile. In the Linux world, creating an esoteric, theoretical application standard not based on market-driven code requires too much speculative investment without any clear mitigation of ROI risk for anyone to take up anymore. Indeed, the days of a bunch of representative techies flying to exotic locales to dream up the theoretical perfect system are over. It’s just too expensive to completely retool an entire stack without a known intrinsic return.
Because of the concentration in the mobile market (83% of handsets manufactured by five companies), when market leaders have invested in a stack, it is a standard whether certified by an arcane standards body or not. The Open Handset Alliance has created a de facto market standard not because a group of market leaders have adopted the standard, but because of Google’s overall singular market weight. The effect is the same (Trolltech and OpenMoko did the same thing that OHA did, and took it one step further by actually building a phone, but no one came running to embrace their reference designs because they lacked the market weight that Google has).
This is not to be confused with the need for technical standards
that dictate interoperability, like GSM/WCDMA, TCP/IP, and WiFi (These
were all the standards that LiPS
cited as analogous reasons why there needs to be a theoretical
application standard for mobile). These standards determine how unlike
devices interoperate, which will always be needed. But within a
device, the need for a theoretical standard is no longer valid.
Developers will flock to what the market broadly supports, whether its
because most of the Big Five support it or because of a sea-change in
mobile computing brought about by an adjacent industry.
At the same time that LiMo and Android are setting a
pragmatic, non-standards stage for significant consolidation in
middleware/apps frameworks, a second major reason for mobile Linux
fragmentation is arguably the lack of one common Linux distribution to
work from (unlike the singular Symbian OS or Microsoft Mobile, or low level RTOSs such as OSE or Nucleus).
Indeed, some commercial Linux vendors have traditionally leveraged only
the kernel in a product offering, yet these vendors were too small to
handle complex, global mobile phone projects for the big players. As a
result, Tier 1 OEMs and semiconductor companies had to build costly
Roll Your Own in-house OS development groups to handle Linux — a
decidedly non-core silicon or OEM competency — thereby proliferating
the number of uncommon Linux distributions and raising costs associated
with upgrading and maintaining them
Today this landscape has started to fundamentally change. Larger
software players now bring significantly greater value propositions and
delivery capabilities to mobile Linux, while there is a growing
perception that a common public Linux distribution accessible to all
players in the value chain is a critical least-common-denominator
running across multiple Linux middleware choices. Indeed, while earlier
commercial efforts focused on providing know-how to the kernel, the
remaining 95% of what is required to build a Linux device (a common
Linux integration environment, a single cockpit tools suite, deep
mobile Linux engineering skills in hardware and middleware integration
and testing, broad global commercial support, warranties and
maintenance, et al.) was missing.
As a result, 2008 signals the
start of fundamental changes to the mobile software market as the
industry begins the next generation of Linux platform deployments.
Jason Whitmire has more than 14 years of executive marketing and
management experience in semiconductor and system software. He
currently serves as General Manager of Wind River’s Mobile Solutions
business. Previously he was a managing director of FSMLabs, where he
headed the worldwide wireless and EMEA businesses, and he was head of
business development for wireless software at Infineon Technologies for
four years. Additionally, Jason has held senior product management,
marketing and business development positions at two European mobile
network operators. Jason got his start in the wireless arena in 1993
while representing the US government in international spectrum and