Intel to turn Moblin over to Linux Foundation

Chip vendor hopes nonprofit's stewardship will spur support for the Linux-based mobile platform

The Moblin Linux desktop

The Moblin Linux desktop

Intel on Thursday plans to turn over the reins of its Moblin Linux-based platform project to the Linux Foundation, putting the work in neutral territory in the hopes of attracting more community support for it.

The San Francisco-based Linux Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group, will host the online community for Moblin on its Web site and take over stewardship of the project and its community, Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation said Wednesday.

"Intel wants to make it clear they are not the kind of organization that believes that not every next big idea necessarily means it needs to come from inside their company," he said.

"In many ways getting the broad community to participate in this project, even if it means giving it up to a neutral place like the Linux Foundation, is a way to get more support."

Developed by Intel in 2007, Moblin is an open-source project aimed at building a Linux-based platform for netbooks, mobile Internet devices (MIDs) like tablet PCs and vehicle information and entertainment systems. In the netbook and MID market it competes with Microsoft's Windows OS.

Intel designed the project to leverage its Atom processor, originally designed for netbooks and MIDs but which the vendor has expanded to include more features for PCs.

Moblin also is up against two other open-source mobile projects that also use Linux at their core - Google's Android platform and LiMo.

Stephen O'Grady, an analyst with RedMonk, said he doesn't see Moblin being a "contender" for widespread deployment in the same way Android is, but turning it over to the Linux Foundation is a smart move by Intel.

"I think it helps, in that the Linux Foundation has experience managing longer Linux-related projects, and this might help it seem more broadly applicable than just targeting Intel chips," he said.

Zemlin said there is room for Moblin to flourish alongside Android and LiMo, as they all take different approaches to creating a Linux-based OS for devices with form factors that meet where PCs and smartphones converge. Android and LiMo are focused on the smartphone space, a form-factor step below the netbook and tablet-PC focus of Moblin, he said.

Moblin also has support from car manufacturers and other companies that have come together under the GENIVI alliance to support a standard operating environment for in-car information and entertainment systems called the In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) reference platform.

"It's a different part of the market today," he said of Moblin's focus. "But I'm not saying that at some point these things won't converge."

Zemlin likened the variety of Linux-based mobile platform projects to the early days of the PC OS market, when many vendors created OSes to take advantage of the new hardware architecture before Microsoft Windows emerged as the dominant OS.

"Nobody knows what the next big thing will be and what it will winnow down to," he said. "The key here is we think that this project adds a lot of value in that it provides a super-rich way for developers to create what might be that next big, big thing."

Zemlin said Moblin, Android and LiMo have several technologies in common - not the least of which is the Linux kernel.

Proponents of each also boast that they individually offer an open development platform for mobile devices that developers can modify as they wish, although they use different open-source licenses.

Android, for example, uses the Apache license, which allows developers to modify the code of the platform when they implement it on devices but does not require them to give that code back to the open-source community.

This could threaten the compatibility of Android across different devices as developers modify the platform but don't let others in on the changes.

LiMo, on the other hand, requires developers to share the platform changes they make with the greater community. Zemlin said the bulk of Moblin is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL), which also obligates developers to share their code with the community.

However, he acknowledged that there are so many different open-source technologies and projects used as part of Moblin that "I couldn't even tell you what every single license is."

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