Too many platforms?

7:35 pm community, freesoftware, maemo

Fabrizio Capobianco of Funambol wondered recently if there are too many mobile Linux platforms.

The context was the recent announcement of oFono by Intel and Nokia, and some confusion and misunderstanding about what oFono represents. Apparently, several people in the media thought that oFono would be Yet Another Complete Stack, and Fabrizio took the bait too.

As far as I can tell, oFono is a component of a mobile stack, supplying the kind of high-level API for telephony functions which Gstreamer does for multimedia applications. If you look at it like this, it is a natural compliment to Moblin and Maemo and potentially a candidate technology for inclusion in the GNOME Mobile module set.

Which brings me to my main point. Fabrizio mentions five platforms besides oFono in his article: Android, LiMo, Symbian, Maemo and Moblin. First, Symbian is not Linux. Of the other four, LiMo, Maemo and Moblin share a bunch of technology in their platforms. Common components across the three are: The Linux kernel (duh), DBus, Xorg, GTK+, GConf, Gstreamer, BlueZ, SQLite… For the most part, they use the same build tools. The differences are in the middleware and application layers of the platform, but the APIs that developers are mostly building against are the same across all three.

Maemo and Moblin share even more technology, as well as having very solid community roots. Nokia have invested heavily in getting their developers working upstream, as has Intel. They are both leveraging community projects right through the stack, and focusing on differentiation at the top, in the user experience. The same goes for Ubuntu Netbook Edition (the nearest thing that Moblin has to a direct competitor at the moment).

So where is the massive diversity in mobile platforms? Right now, there is Android in smartphones, LiMo targeting smartphones, Maemo in personal internet tablets and Moblin on netbooks. And except for Android, they are all leveraging the work being done by projects like GNOME, rather than re-inventing the wheel. This is not fragmentation, it is adaptability. It is the basic system being tailored to very specific use-cases by groups who decide to use an existing code base rather than starting from scratch. It is, in a word, what rocks about Linux and free software in general.

6 Responses

  1. bratarsch Says:

    This is Harald Welte’s take on this:

    http://laforge.gnumonks.org/weblog/2009/05/12/#20090512-ophono_fso

    So, yes, they actually *are* reinventing the weel here.

  2. Joseph Charpak Says:

    Isn’t LiMo still vaporware at this point? If so, that’s even one fewer in the list.

  3. foo Says:

    You forgot about the OpenMoko mobile platforms.

  4. Edward Says:

    You should have put one of the last sentences of your post in bold:

    “And except for Android, they are all leveraging the work being done” … “rather than re-inventing the wheel.”

  5. Dave Neary Says:

    @Foo: I didn’t – Fabrizio didn’t mention it, so I didn’t. At this stage, it looks like OpenMoko is pretty marginal as an “industry” platform.

    @Joseph: No, LiMo isn’t vaporware. It’s a collection of software, some of which (30 to 40 percent) is free software, the rest of which is cross-licenced among LiMo members.

    @bratarsch: The difference between FreeSmartphone.org and oFono as I understand it is like the difference between Gstreamer and ALSA. Yes, they can both be used to get the same result, but they’re not at the same level of abstraction.

  6. Links 21/05/2009: New GNOME, IBM Promotes Desktop GNU/Linux | Boycott Novell Says:

    […] Too many platforms? So where is the massive diversity in mobile platforms? Right now, there is Android in smartphones, LiMo targeting smartphones, Maemo in personal internet tablets and Moblin on netbooks. And except for Android, they are all leveraging the work being done by projects like GNOME, rather than re-inventing the wheel. This is not fragmentation, it is adaptability. It is the basic system being tailored to very specific use-cases by groups who decide to use an existing code base rather than starting from scratch. It is, in a word, what rocks about Linux and free software in general. […]