Intel buys Linux expertise for Atom

Rethink Research
10 Sep 2008

The days of the inseparable Wintel double act are certainly over, as Intel gets more and more involved in Linux developments, especially for its mobile platform Atom - currently geared to mobile internet devices (MIDs) but soon to move into smaller cellphones too. Intel's latest move to boost its Linux system, and to strengthen its hand in the battle to drive mobile open source standards, is to acquire UK firm OpenedHand, which specializes in porting Linux to small devices.

The first challenge for the newly acquired start-up will be to create a Linux stack for Atom, using the Moblin open source development kit that Intel favors, and which has been extensively demonstrated on its MID reference platforms - which carry the heavy burden of making Intel's PC/IP-originated concepts the heart of the emerging class of sub-notebook web devices, rather than rival designs coming up from the cellphone arena.

One of the key differences from earlier PC designs, of course, is that Windows is only one operating system option for MIDs, and increasingly Intel is putting the spotlight more brightly on Linux. Its functionality and political influence in the open source community - a hotbed of battles for control of the mobile market - will be enhanced by OpenedHand, which is a significant contributor to the Gnome desktop software project, one of the most important open source projects. Companies like Intel and Motorola have been prominent in mobilizing Gnome, and OpenedHand also boasts Nokia as a customer, raising once again the possibility that Intel and the Finnish leader could draw closer together on Linux MIDs, rather than pursuing conflicting paths towards the same goals of high functionality, ubiquitous mobile web devices.

The UK company is also a supplier to the One Laptop Per Child project for ultra-low cost Linux PCs and members of its team have contributed to various open source projects including the Linux kernel, X Window System, Debian, OpenEmbedded, GTK+, GStreamer and Abiword.

'The OpenedHand team will join the Intel Open Source Technology Center and will focus on the development of the Moblin Software Platform, the optimized software stack for Intel Atom processors,' said the official statement. Existing projects by the smaller company, such as Matchbox and Clutter, will continue to be supported and will be integrated into the Moblin effort.

Intel created the Moblin initiative a year ago as its attempt to set de facto standards for mobile and MID Linux, with key partners Ubuntu, Mozilla and Red Flag. Like Nokia, Google and LiMO, Intel is trying to assemble a complete open source stack and surrounding environment, using a selection of best of breed tools and de facto standards, in order to strengthen its Atom play and also increase its overall weight in the mobile Linux evolution. Nokia made a similar move earlier this year when it acquired Trolltech, bringing a well respected open source software development platform to Nokia's Series 60 - which is closely tied to the soon-to-be open sourced Symbian, but could also be ported to Linux in future. Nokia already produces Linux devices in the shape of its internet tablets, supporting the Maemo and Gnome platforms.

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