Intel’s Odd Role as a Lead Linux Promoter

Software makers large and small have spent years toiling away at the Linux desktop. So, it’s a bit odd to find Intel, a chip manufacturer, doing some of the more innovative work to make Linux appealing to the masses.
In an article published Monday, I took a look at Moblin, Intel’s version of Linux aimed at netbooks today and at cellphones tomorrow, and the company’s software organization as a whole. Intel has turned to software as a means of drumming up support for its low-power Atom chip. Intel markets the Atom against rival products from the traditional cellphone chip makers.

If a company were to create a brand new, slick user interface for Linux capable of combating Windows, shouldn’t it be, say, Novell or Canonical? Both companies have server and desktop flavors of Linux, and Canonical, in particular, has talked a lot about developing a flashy user interface to help Linux fight Windows and Mac OS X.

But when it comes to netbooks and phones, these Linux mainstays are content to let the likes of Intel with Moblin and Google with Android lead the design charge.

Moblin, for example, boasts a new start-up menu that meshes a person’s calendar, recently used software, social networking updates, photos and other bits and pieces together. It’s a design that caters to the Web-addicted types buying netbooks and smartphones.

While Linux has certainly gone corporate, its open-source nature still leads to some kumbaya moments. For example, Novell has done some engineering work with Intel around Moblin and plans to offer its own version of the software directly to PC makers. Why should Novell spend a bunch of money making a netbook operating system when Intel is already doing the heavy lifting?

“Our current desktop didn’t have the right design principles for mobile computing,” said Ron Hovsepian, the chief executive of Novell. “Moblin is a bottoms-up, fresh approach at trying to do something completely different.”

Novell has set up a software lab in Taiwan to work on furthering mobile technology with local hardware makers.

Mark Shuttleworth, the chief executive of Canonical, said he’s more than happy to pick up pieces of Moblin that work and build them into Ubuntu, the company’s flagship version of Linux.

“If they have better ideas, then we would embrace them,” Mr. Shuttleworth said. “I think it would be a big mistake for us to stick to our baby just because it’s our baby. It would be vain not to embrace something that is better.”

Unless it undergoes some massive change in strategy, Intel is happy to stay in the background, letting folks like Novell and Canonical do with Moblin what they will. It’s a stance that ruffles Microsoft’s feathers a bit less and sticks close to Intel’s traditions as more or less a neutral party.

BY Ashlee Vance
Source:The New York Times

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company.



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