MontaVista, Arm, others to build Linux UMPC platform

A group of companies is designing a Linux-based open-source platform for a category of devices larger than a smartphone and smaller than a laptop.

A group of seven companies including Mozilla, Arm and MontaVista Software are hoping to grow the market for a relatively new device category that sits in between a smartphone and a laptop.

The companies are collaborating on a Linux-based open-source platform that encompasses chip design, operating system and some applications. They hope that the platform will make it easier for hardware developers to build devices similar to Nokia's N800 tablet. That Linux-based device is bigger than a smartphone but smaller than a laptop and includes Wi-Fi but not cellular capabilities.

The group, which also includes Texas Instruments, Samsung Electronics America, Movial and Marvell Technologies Group, expects to complete the platform's development in the early part of next year, said Kerry McGuire, director of strategic alliances in Arm's connected mobile computing group. The devices should hit the market in early 2009, she said.

The device category is similar to the ultramobile PC but is based on Linux and not Microsoft programs, said Jim Ready, CTO and founder of MontaVista.

Devices based on the new platform would weigh less than a laptop, both literally and from the perspective that they might not require as many applications, he said. "You can attach to the Web and do e-mail and browsing without all the baggage of a PC and Windows and Office," he said. "There are Web-based alternatives to all that." For example, instead of Microsoft Word, a user of such a device could access Google Docs through the browser to create a document.

The group is "complimentary" to the LiMo Foundation, said McGuire. LiMo is one of many organizations working on standards and specifications for mobile Linux. Those groups, however, aren't focused on this slightly different device category, said McGuire.

While the platform the companies develop may be similar to the one Nokia uses in the N800, the Arm group is creating a completely open platform that it will share with the open-source community, McGuire said.

The N800 has been available for a couple of years and Nokia has not discussed how many units it has sold. McGuire has high hopes for the category though. By 2010, she expects there will be 90 million of the devices on the market.

The platform will comprise Arm's Debian-based Linux distribution, MontaVista's operating system, a desktop and application environment from Gnome Mobile, a browser from Mozilla, a multimedia player and other components such as integrated hardware management for battery and power savings, a customizable user interface and various options for wireless connectivity.

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