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Top consumer electronics firms target Linux

Several large consumer electronics makers have joined forces to promote the use of Linux in home devices. Japanese electronics giant Sony and seven other companies officially launched the CE Linux Forum (CELF) last week to focus on defining requirements for extensions in Linux-based consumer electronics (audio-visual devices, cellular phones and the like).

In a statement on the group's Web site (http://www.celinuxforum.org), the forum will focus on 'collaborating and reaching consensus with open source projects as well as with the Linux community, thereby promoting the proliferation of CE Linux based digital electronics in the electronics industry.'

The group includes five other Japanese companies: Matsushita Electric Industrial (Panasonic), Toshiba, NEC, Hitachi and Sharp. Founding company Royal Philips Electronics is a Dutch company, and Samsung Electronics is based in South Korea. IBM is said to be pursuing membership in CELF.

Matsushita and Sony late last year had disclosed plans to cooperate on developing Linux-based software for audio-visual products. And Philips recently expressed interest in using Linux for linking networked home electronics systems, such as stereos and printers.

The forum plans to publish its requirements and to evaluate open-source solutions that meet those requirements. Specifically, the group aims to improve startup and shutdown time of Linux-based devices, enhance the real-time capabilities of these devices, reduce ROM/RAM size requirements, and improve the efficiency of power management in Linux-based CE.

Group members say the organization will function like a typical open-source forum, utilizing an open process and evaluating all technology submissions to determine viability for inclusion in the standard. Open-source submissions accepted by the CELF Architecture Group and Steering Committee will be incorporated into the CELF source tree, which itself is open to the public, members said.

Some industry observers say the CELF forum could turn out to be yet another blow to Microsoft, which has publicly declared Linux a threat to its server business. A wide range of U.S. corporations have been turning to Linux to run servers, joining their brethren in Europe who have long been particularly open to the potential of open-source technologies. Linux has been gaining ground in European corporations and government agencies that are turning to the open-source software to run a range of desktop and network computer systems. For example, German Linux distributor SuSE landed a contract to switch more than 14,000 Windows desktop PCs to Linux for the city government of Munich in May.

Microsoft has been campaigning hard to keep governments outside the U.S. from switching to Linux-based software. Last week, the company scored three European government contracts. Although details of the agreements were not available at press time, Microsoft said that it would be deploying its Windows server and desktop software on thousands of computers for the city governments in Frankfurt, Germany; the Latvian capital of Riga; and Turku in Finland. Microsoft said it won the contracts after 'competing head-to-head for the business with various Linux vendors,' according to a report from Reuters.

The Linux source code is available free and can be modified, improved and shared with the rest of the community. It was created in 1991 by Linus Torvalds while he was a university student in Finland. The source code is released under the GPL license, and development continues, by expansion or maintenance, by volunteers around the world.

Research firm Gartner predicted recently that Linux could command 15% of the worldwide server market by 2007.

About the Author

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

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