How big can mobile Linux get?


With the pending release of Google's Android platform, the debut of the LiMo Foundation's Platform Release 1 and Nokia's $153 million acquisition of Trolltech, 2008 is clearly shaping up as mobile Linux's breakthrough year...but what does that mean for the operating system's future? According to market analysis firm ABI Research, Linux's forecast is bright--the OS will power about 20 percent of all mid- and high-end mobile devices by 2013.

ABI anticipates that mobile Linux solutions will be central to the growth of content-rich environments on mid-level devices, enabling an application domain that embraces both web-based applications and hybrid web/native applications. Cost will also play a vital role in Linux's growth. "Clever choice of public license support, along with software engineering that isolates proprietary items from open source items, allows operating system vendors to generate revenue from a very cost-effective OS solution," says ABI Research vice president Stuart Carlaw. "Linux OS solutions will be far more cost-effective than incumbent solutions, even when silicon requirements are taken into account, given that a fuller application layer will be included in the standard package and that the burden of customization falls mostly on the independent software vendor."

But could mobile Linux dominate even more than 20 percent of the market? That depends on fragmentation. According to another recent study, this one issued by Strategy Analytics, 20 of the 30 or so mobile OS platforms currently available are Linux-based, underlining just how many cooks are stirring the Linux broth. Both the LiMo Foundation and the Google-headed Open Handset Alliance are actively promoting Linux consolidation, interoperability and platform commonality, and no doubt some smaller Linux players will go belly-up, but for now, the open-source landscape is still a wild west--and the jury is still out on whether Android will unify the mobile OS space or scatter it even further. So while it seems realistic to envision that mobile Linux will claim 20 percent or even more of the mobile OS market by 2013, it once seemed logical to believe that by 2008 we'd all be commuting to and from work via personal jetpacks...and look at how that turned out. -Jason