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Chip giants form new company devoted to Linux development on ARM

by Scott Bicheno on 3 June 2010, 10:20

Tags: Samsung (005935.KS), IBM (NYSE:IBM), ARM, Texas Instruments (NASDAQ:TXN)

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Linux has taken-off on mobile devices in a way it was never allowed to on the PC and as a consequence it's the foundation of many smartphone - and soon tablet - operating systems, including Android, MeeGo and webOS.

While Intel is in the process of making its move in the mobile device space, and is the co-owner of MeeGo, right now all these operating systems are running on just one instruction set: ARM. The UK chip-designer's business model requires it to promote and support the ecosystem around its designs, as its growth and the health of the ecosystem are umbilically linked.

So the announcement at Computex today that ARM has had a whip-round with Freescale, IBM, Samsung, ST-Ericsson and Texas Instruments to form Linaro - a not-for-profit company devoted to investing resources in Linux projects that can then be used by any Linux distributions if they so choose.

This collaboration has more than a whiff of the IBM semiconductor alliance about it, which includes Freescale and Samsung and is dedicated to establishing a common chip manufacturing standard. Obviously ARM has at least as much of an interest in aiding chip development as it does Linux, so this is another move to ensure the good health of its ecosystem going forward. Intel's acquisition of embedded systems software giant Wind River last year may well have also catalysed the formation of Linaro.

There are quite a few conspicuous absentees from the list however. Linux is a direct competitor to Apple and Microsoft, so they were never going to join in, and it would defeat the apparent object of the exercise for any other Linux developers, like Google, to take part. But if Linaro is all about optimizing Linux for SoCs, where are Qualcomm, NVIDIA, Marvell, etc?

"ARM and our partners have a long history of working with, and supporting, open source software development for complex SoCs based on the ARM architecture," said Warren East, ARM CEO. "As a founding member of Linaro, we are working together with the broader open source community to accelerate innovation for the next generation of computing, focusing on delivering a rich connected experience across the diversity of devices in our daily lives."

The first batch of goodies from Linaro is due out this November, and will focus on the ARM Cortex A8 and A9 designs that are present in many high-end smartphones. Linaro plans to release new stuff every six months.


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