I remember a long time ago putting the Apache web server platform on my Agenda linux-based PDA. Most people laughed at me seeing my little experiment as a waste of time. There were those, however, who at least saw the "l33t" in what I was doing. In all reality I was just doing it because I could. I thought it was crazy-cool having a pocket-sized web server sitting on my desk.
Of course the Agenda pda turned out to be a waste of time and money. But the experiment - somewhat prophetic.
Recently I came across a company called GumStix. GumStix sells tiny linux servers the size of, you guessed it, a pack of gum. This product reminded me of that time when I had the "server on a deck of cards". Back then everyone was saying the future of linux was mobile computing and embedded systems. Problem was, mobile computing and embedded systems hadn't really taken off. Well, now those two form factors are entrenched in the world of computing and Linux is finally starting to bring those worlds to the fore.
But to what end?
Are we finally going to see a linux-based smart phone? Motorola has just recently announced their linux-based smart phone based on the RAZR form factor. We all know how much Motorola loves the open source community. Just check out their open source developers website!
There is also the Pepper Pad. Of course the Pepper Pad has been rumored for years now. I've read plenty of articles spouting off the possibilities. But only now has this device come to fruition (you can even order a pink version!)
I also know a developer who worked for Lockheed Martin and for years he pushed the linux operating system on the development of embedded systems. And for years LM pushed back saying no. Finally they gave in and many of their projects blossomed.
But one of the problems I have seen over the years is that the open source community will spearhead a project (such as Linux on a phone) and get the kernel, window environment, and even some widget-sets running. But then it comes time for applications and all seems to come to a halt. Look at the mini browser issue. Their are few good browsers for smart phones. Opera has a nice version in the Opera Mini. But, even though they support open standards, their application source is closed. In 2005 Nokia started to develop an open source browser based on the Safari browser. This browser was based on the Symbian operating system. Symbian sponsors an open source developers site called symbianos.org.This site is no Sourceforge let me tell ya.
It seems the champion of Linux on mobile devices is Trolltech. Their Qtopia Greensuite platform. This platform pieces together a foundation and group of apps (from various sources) to form a solid whole for linux-based phones. But it's not open source. There's the rub. They take an open source operating system, add it with a group of closed source applications, close the lot of it, and sell it.
Sure it's legal. Sure it's good for the platform (hey, at least it's on a solid foundation like Linux). But it goes against the fundamental tenet of the linux community. But you know what? I'm okay with that. Why? Because it puts the Linux operating system in a positive light (and not a fanatical light) and shows the world that Linux is a serious player on all levels, in all platforms, and can play well with both the fan boys and the corporate suits.
It's not ideal. But thanks to companies like Gumstix, Symbian, and Trolltech, Linux is claiming yet another niche it promised to dominate a long, long time ago.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.