Intel, Nokia join Linux efforts for 'smart' devices

The companies are combining their respective Linux operating environments to power future devices like tablets and high-end smartphones.

Intel and Nokia are combining their respective Linux operating environments to power future smartphones and tablets, another step in a technology tie-up launched last year.

The technology merger will fuse Intel's Moblin and Nokia's Maemo software to form a new operating environment dubbed MeeGo, which is expected to power a range of devices, including pocketable mobile computers, Netbooks, tablets, connected TVs, and in-vehicle infotainment systems.

Intel's Moblin operating system has been offered on Netbooks from Dell, Acer, and Asus and made an appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show on a future smartphone from LG Electronics. Nokia's Maemo OS has powered its N900, a high-end smartphone that Nokia refers to as a "mobile computer"--a likely precursor for future MeeGo-based devices from the Finnish telecommunications giant.

The Intel-Nokia collaboration began in earnest in June when the two companies announced the beginning of a "long-term relationship," focusing on developing new chip architectures, software, and a new class of Intel-based mobile computing devices. This move is part of a major shift for Intel--a giant in PC chips but not a player in cell phones.

The goal for MeeGo is to put more flesh on the bones of last year's announcement. In short, to combine two disparate, unwieldy operating environments under one roof, said Renee J. James, a senior vice president at Intel. "Across a range of devices we're looking to build a single Linux platform with a single developer environment and a merged API," James said in an interview with CNET. An API, or application programming interface, is a way for a program to interact with other software.

Both companies stressed that applications that run on Moblin and Maemo will run on top of MeeGo.

Importantly, MeeGo will support equally ubiquitous ARM-architecture chips, in addition to Intel processors. "It's going to be cross-platform. That means it supports both Intel and ARM," James said. ARM processors are offered by Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, Samsung, and others, while Intel's Atom processor powers Moblin-based devices today.

Future devices and apps stores
James emphasized that its "multi-device" target markets will include the emerging category of tablets. "I think there's going to be a lot of (tablet) experimentation this year but this kind of operating environment is targeted very well for a tablet-style device," James said.

Software rivals will include Apple, Google, and even Microsoft. James, however, says MeeGo is targeted at devices beyond today's mobile phones running on Apple's iPhone OS, Microsoft's Windows Mobile, and Google's Android. "There are great phone OSes out there, but what MeeGo is really about is your vision for the future of computing and communications and how do they come together in a smart computer," James said. "Smart" in this case implying a device that is small but powerful like a high-end smartphone.

Nokia, however, will continue to use its Symbian OS for smartphones. "This affects nothing about our Symbian strategy," said Mark Durrant, director of Corporate Development Communications at Nokia. "That continues to be our strategy for smartphones. We will use the MeeGo platform as we used the Maemo platform. For high-end mobile devices. What we call pocketable devices. Devices that really go beyond today's smartphones," he said.

Durrant added that developers can create applications for MeeGo and recompile them to run on Symbian. MeeGo will use Nokia's Qt application development environment. Using Qt, developers can write once to create applications for a variety of devices and platforms, and market them through Nokia's Ovi Store and Intel's AppUp Center and Nokia's Ovi Store.

The Ovi Store will be the channel to market apps and content for all Nokia devices, including MeeGo- and Symbian-based, with Forum Nokia providing developer support, Nokia said. The Intel AppUp Center will be the marketing vehicle for Intel-based MeeGo devices, with the Intel Atom Developer Program providing support.

The MeeGo software is expected to be released in the second quarter of this year and products are slated to emerge in the second half, according to both companies.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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