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01 November 2011, 12:33

In Conversation: Jim Zemlin of the Linux Foundation

by Dj Walker-Morgan

The Linux Foundation's Executive Director Jim Zemlin sat down with The H's Editor-in-Chief at LinuxCon Europe to talk about the embedded initiative, the purpose of the Foundation, Linux desktop leadership and what applications he'd like to see on Linux.

The H: On the first day of LinuxCon we had the LTSI announcement and the Yocto announcement, but nothing apparently tying them together. Are you plugging them together?

Jim Zemlin: Oh I think so. Definitely. I think it's a natural thing. The LTSI project has to get ramped up and the guys deciding on the core, which version, which patches, and I see sometime, February-March next year, we'll see the actual tree.

Zoom Zemlin presenting at LinuxCon Europe
The H: I notice from the meeting notes that NEC and Renesas organised the meeting.

Jim Zemlin: Munakata from Renesas did a bunch of research on the stuff, and NEC, Shibata, is project managing, but it's been pretty heavily influenced by Sony and Samsung. I mean all these guys have the same problem. They are doing a bunch of kernel work and they are back-porting a bunch of features that they'd rather do together than do themselves. I'm trying to make it sound more exciting, but it is one of those classic cases where a bunch of guys got together and said: "Hey, all of us are in the same game, lets get together and collectively we'll save a bunch of money." I think a good benefit that they would get from doing this under this construct (LTSI) is that their kernel and the Linux mainline kernel will have as few differences as possible. And so it's a way to share engineering resources but also a good way to get your stuff upstream, eventually.

The H: This leads to a more general question. The purpose of the Foundation seems to be a focus on commoditising Linux...

Jim Zemlin: That happened a long time ago. I think it was from the beginning; it's free software.

The H: ... for industries that haven't used it before.

Jim Zemlin: Let me say first, that the Linux Foundation is a supporting function of the real work, which is Linus, the kernel development and the commercial industry sectors who adopt, utilise and create the Linux ecosystem and economy. The more specific thing we're trying to do is we ask ourselves three questions about what we should do in that construct. The first is: "Will this move the needle on adoption of Linux in any significant way; will it grow it?" The second question is: "Is anybody else doing this?" because if there's already a market mechanism to meet this problem then we wouldn't do it. That question is kind of the same as: "Do you need a consortium?" Is it better to do it together or are they already doing it separately? Then the third thing is: "Do we have the resources?"

Things like LTSI or Yocto, or any of these things, accelerate the speed at which the embedded systems industry can consume Linux and take it to market: which grows the number of people relying on Linux, which grows the number of developers, which gives more innovation and creates that virtuous cycle that Linux has already proven out in the enterprise and other forms of computing. So, that's how I think we think our job is, to act as a facilitator for that type of work. And definitely in embedded and definitely in mobile right now; there is definitely a role for us to help accelerate the consumption, commercialisation and participation in Linux.

The H: Talking about accelerated development, one thing people saw coming along, from the outside at least, was MeeGo, and suddenly there was a huge step change...

Jim Zemlin: Definitely. It's ironic we're discussing this today when the Windows Phone is being launched by Microsoft.

The H: And we have a situation where Android is a great money earner for Microsoft with patent licensing. Do you find that ironic?

Jim Zemlin: Yes I do.

The H: Do you think any of the up and coming mobile Linux products are going to be able to dodge that bullet of Microsoft licensing?

Jim Zemlin: This is typical stuff though. Those who can't, sue. It's hardly surprising and I don't think it's hindered in any way the growth of Android, which is crushing in the market place. It's part and parcel of the mobile device industry these days and I don't think it has anything to do with open source. It's just a desperate company trying to make money any way they can.

Next: Patents and Desktops

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