Japanese giants join to boost Linux

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. ( and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. ( 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 others.

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.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at


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