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Intel runs Android on Atom, as its rivals target MeeGo for ARM

In the mobile Linux world, some pigs are more equal than others

By PETER WHITE

Published: 13 January, 2011

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In the mobile Linux world, some pigs are more equal than others. Android, the highest profile mobile OS with a Linux base, is no longer officially Linux at all, but a ‘fork’. This leaves MeeGo with the purest credentials among the big name variants, and actually hosted by the Linux Foundation. It could be a powerful counterweight to Google for one of its developers, Nokia, but the position of the other, Intel, is more ambiguous. Intel’s rivals are flocking to MeeGo for its modern, web-oriented, ‘true Linux’ properties, so it is questionable how much power it will bring to its co-creator. AMD has already shown a strong interest, and last week Broadcom joined the Linux Foundation, with insiders signalling a MeeGo move. Ironically enough, that came as Intel talked up commercial availability of Android on its Atom processors.

In other words, this will be no tightly coupled Wintel scenario, with Intel tying an OS to its x86 architecture and excluding rivals. Nokia gains from broad implementation of MeeGo, enhancing the credentials of its multi-OS software strategy even while keeping the driving seat of a potentially important platform in the cloud. Intel, however, will have to fight the same x86 versus ARM wars whether it controls the OS or not. As Microsoft gets closer to ARM, even for full-blown Windows, so Intel will see the ARM-based processor makers grabbing for a share of MeeGo.

MeeGo could soon be in the odd situation of being supported by three key Intel competitors, AMD, Broadcom and Qualcomm. Qualcomm has expressed strong interest in the OS, though it is likely to work more closely with Nokia than Intel – for now at least, the two vendors’ strategies and release schedules remain separate, with Intel’s mainly focused on netbooks. However, any activities by rival chipmakers could damage the key goal of using MeeGo as a differentiating software framework for Atom.

In November, AMD joined the MeeGo open source project hosted by the Linux Foundation, and will provide engineering expertise intended to influence future releases and enhancements. "MeeGo represents an exciting, open source mobile operating system we expect to be adopted by mobile and embedded device makers over time," said the firm’s corporate VP of software development, Ben Bar-Haim. “We expect that this operating system will help drive our embedded plans and create expanded market opportunities for our forthcoming Accelerated Processing Units."

And now Broadcom has signed up for the Foundation, with a sharp eye on MeeGo. This comes after years when Broadcom has been considered a Linux outsider, incurring the anger of Wi-Fi notebook users with only minimal efforts to support Wi-Fi drivers and code for its WLan chipsets. It has gradually softened its position over the past three years, and last September released sourcecode for the “initial release of a fully open Linux driver” for its 802.11n chipsets. This has now been integrated into the latest Linux kernel release 2.6.37.

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