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26 June 2009, 12:20

What does the Intel Nokia mobile Internet deal mean for open source?

by Mary Branscombe

Details of how Intel and Nokia will actually work together to create their brand-new category of not-a-smartphone, not-a-netbook mobile devices remain sketchy, but the first results will be open source software rather than any hardware platform.

Nokia N810 Internet Tablet with Maemo
Nokia N810 Internet Tablet with Maemo
The basis of the recent agreement between Intel and Nokia to work together is that Linux is the way forward for mobile operating systems. Anand Chandrasekher, Intel senior vice president and general manager of the Ultra Mobility Group, says what Intel and Nokia are developing will be "open and standards-based technologies, which history shows drive rapid innovation, adoption and consumer choice". And Nokia’s Executive Vice President for Devices, Kai Öistämö called Linux "undoubtedly an important part of the new state of the world in combining the mobile and computing worlds together. We in Nokia have been developing a mobile Linux distribution for many years now; we are in our fourth generation today - and likewise Intel has put a very significant investment into software distribution."

Don’t cross the streams

Moblin logo Neither company is giving up those investments. Rod O’Shea, sales and marketing director of Intel’s EMEA embedded group, confirms that Nokia’s Maemo and Intel-backed Moblin will remain separate distributions and the way he describes the two operating systems suggests that, for Intel at least, this new category won’t be their only mobile Internet focus. "There’s no suggestion that those will come together. They have been developed for a similar purpose but with different focuses".

Maemo logo "Maemo was developed with a focus on the pocket device experience and it's not restricted to any particular processor architecture. Moblin is optimised for the Intel architecture, with projects for MIDs and a host of other embedded solutions". The plan is to work together and enable "common technologies across both distributions" so that Intel and Nokia can develop solutions jointly that run on both Maemo and Moblin. O'Shea says "There is significant complexity in the delivery of this software environment, which is why we believe this positioning of common technologies across these environments will give huge benefits. The environment is changing significantly and will need different disciplines to support it."

The common technologies that get delivered to Moblin will be delivered by the Linux Foundation, says O’Shea, who admits that "we have not explained details of how this collaboration will work" but promises there is "a significant amount of work being done to make sure we have consistency and guidance across those OS’s" and that we’ll see what he calls "proof points" in the future.

Chandrasekher says that Intel and Nokia recognise that those common technologies and components aren’t only just what they need to build a platform; they’re also what application developers need to make it easier for them to build on "the huge number of off-the-shelf PC compatible applications" and bring them to mobile devices. He promises that the collaboration will produce "a very rich software environment for apps and for end users to experience them".

O’Shea suggests that’s simply not there on mobile Linux today. "There's a complexity in these solutions that we need to simplify where we can and make sure there’s a rapid development environment." He also cites PC apps as a model; "look at the PC environment - we have managed to deliver consistent PC development solutions and that's enabled compatible solutions and swift time to market. Ultimately we have to build a good experience for the customer and for consumers of technology. Look at the way the Internet has developed; it has developed at a significant pace where we can reduce software fragmentation to make it easier for users to get a good experience and for developers to develop that experience."

Next: Contributing to open source

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