Japanese giants join to boost Linux
- By John K. Waters
Linux is coming to a camcorder near you -- and a TV, VCR and a ''smart''
microwave oven -- that is, if a new agreement between Sony Corp. (http://www.sony.com) and Matsushita Electric
Industrial Co. (http://www.panasonic.com)
to adapt the open-source operating system for consumer electronics bears fruit.
The two Japanese companies, normally fierce competitors, disclosed plans last
week to jointly develop a version of the OS for their products. Sony and
Matsushita said they expect to complete the project next March.
Seeking ''faster boot times and better performance,'' Sony and Matsushita
(known as Panasonic in the U.S.) plan to use Linux as the embedded OS in a range
of consumer devices, according to Matsushita spokesperson Yoko Fukusaki.
Officials from both firms said they hoped the joint development effort could
help promote Linux and other open source to new potential users. In addition,
officials promised that code developed under the agreement will be available
free under the General Public License (GPL), which allows anyone to modify the
software, and that any modifications made must be freely available to
Sony emphasized that Linux will be added to its overall software arsenal, and
will not become its exclusive operating system for consumer devices. Sony PCs,
for example, will continue to run on Windows.
''The joint project is designed to make products with better functions that
are easier to use,'' Sony spokesman Shinji Obana said.
A growing number of companies are using Linux as an operating system for
servers, and tech-industry heavyweights like IBM have invested heavily in the
technology. This announcement is another indicator that the OS is making inroads
into the consumer electronics market.
Sony and Matsushita disclosed that they are considering whether to form a
Linux forum for digital consumer electronics, which would serve as a vehicle for
sharing developments of the OS among a range of companies. Officials maintained
that several companies have shown interest in the forum idea, including Hitachi,
IBM, NEC, Philips, Samsung and Sharp.
Japan's two largest consumer electronics companies are not the only ones in
that country who seem to be warming up to the idea of working with computer
systems other than Windows. The Japanese public management ministry recently
disclosed that it would spend 50 million yen ($413,000) to empanel a group of
scholars and computer experts to study the potential of using open source.
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached