Moblin's Newfound Momentum Will Increase Open Source OS Fragmentation

by Ostatic Staff - Sep. 23, 2009

Wow, could the world of open source mobile operating systems possibly become more fragmented? Yesterday, we noted that at this week's Intel Developer Forum (IDF) conference in San Francisco notebooks running on the open source Moblin OS are due to arrive, and Intel officials demonstrated a smartphone with an Atom chip running Moblin. Moblin will join Google's upcoming Chrome OS and Ubuntu in the fight to keep open source operating systems competitive on netbooks, and Intel's phone demo based on an open source OS represents the company's first foray into chips and platform technology for smartphones. Moblin/Intel phones may soon be competing with Android phones, and phones based on the upcoming open source version of Symbian's OS.

While yesterday's demo of a smartphone running a current Intel Atom chip and the Moblin OS, worked, it was more proof-of-concept than anything else. I'm in total agreement with PC Pro that what Intel really intends to do is to move toward Moblin smartphones running its Moorestown chip:

"Though Moblin for MIDs sounds persuasive, there’s a catch: current Atom processors consume too much power to deliver acceptable battery life. For that reason, you won’t be seeing handsets based on the current generation of CPUs. But the next generation of Atom processors – codenamed Moorestown – is planned for the middle of next year, with the promise of greatly reduced power consumption, especially when idle."

If Intel can become a serious chip player in the smartphone market, that has numerous implications on the hardware front. It would put Intel in very direct chip competition with Apple, and Intel would be competing directly with ARM as well. But the software story may prove more interesting. Moblin is a multitasking open source operating system, and the multitasking could be a challenge to Apple's iPhone. With app stores all the rage, Intel has also shrewdly opened up an Atom App Store. Many people are interpreting it as solely aimed at netbooks, but I bet that app store will become populated with applications for Moblin-based smartphones over time.

If Moblin becomes a serious player in open source mobile operating systems, it will contribute to a great deal of fragmentation. Android is just gaining its stride, and heading beyond just smartphones, while Google is likely to put big marketing dollars behind Chrome OS. It's already announced that it is talking to hardware partners. While Symbian has dragged its feet in delivering its open source OS, it is in beta testing with it, and the Symbian OS is on nearly half of smartphones.

Juniper Research has forecasted that smartphones shipped with open source operating systems will increase from 106 million this year to 223 million by 2014.  Meanwhile, China is taking open source mobile operating systems very seriously, and Motorola is aligning its smartphone efforts with Android. One has to wonder if all this fragmentation optimizes the chances for any single  mobile open source OS.