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Linux gets standards for 'embedded' devices

The Embedded Linux Consortium releases its first specification in an attempt to ensure that Linux for devices such as cell phones conforms to certain guidelines.

An industry consortium including Red Hat, MontaVista Software and IBM is trying to make it easier for companies to use the Linux operating system in cell phones, network routers and other devices.

The Embedded Linux Consortium released on Wednesday

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its first specification in an attempt to ensure that Linux for "embedded" devices such as cell phones or karaoke machines conforms to certain guidelines.

Because Linux is an open-source software project, anyone can modify and redistribute the software's underlying source code, which sometimes makes for a fast-changing and chaotic environment as companies and hobbyists develop and distribute their Linux-based products. Much of the benefit that Linux sellers such as Red Hat provide is a stable product with which software companies such as Oracle can certify their products.

The Embedded Linux Consortium's effort, called the ELC Platform Specification, helps freeze some aspects of the fluid Linux technology, providing a more stable foundation for companies thinking of using Linux in their gadgets.

For example, a company that had written software for a network traffic router using MontaVista Software's version of embedded Linux could more easily switch to the version from competitor LynuxWorks if it chose.

"The release of the Embedded Linux Consortium's specification will make the development and deployment of embedded Linux devices more attractive," said Giga Information Group analyst Stacey Quandt. It will make it easier to use Linux applications on different devices, she said.

Embedded Linux, which competes with embedded operating systems from Microsoft and Wind River Systems, has been catching on. NEC and Sony sell Linux-based consumer electronics devices such as personal video recorders, while Motorola plans to use Linux for the majority of its cell phones. IBM is working on using Linux for handheld computers.

The Linux Standard Base has been working for years to standardize Linux for servers, and now the embedded computing realm is following. The embedded standard incorporates material from the LSB as well as from Unix organizations.