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Linux: New Distribution for the ARM mobile processing

By Dick Weisinger

A group of hardware companies that produce ARM-powered mobile devices have gotten together to create a consortium called Linaro.  ARM produces ultra-low-power consumption chips for mobile devices, like for the iPhone, and is available at a relatively low unit price.  ARM has been successfully attacking the low end of the chip, a game-plan similar to Intel’s from a couple of decades back, and now ARM is capturing market share that would normally have belonged to Intel.  About 98 percent of mobile phones use ARM chips and the chips are also used heavily in other consumer electronic products.  It is expected that Linaro should help speed the time to market for new mobile devices.

The non-profit project Linaro is being staffed by about 80-100 employees and funded with tens of millions of dollars contributed by the six founding companies: ARM, IBM, Freescale, TI, Ericsson, Samsung, and Canonical. The goal of Linaro is to be able to reduce the time required to bring to market new Linux-powered mobile devices.  Linaro will focus on developing and improving low-level capabilities in Linux  needed for hand-held devices like in the areas of tooling improvements, kernel consolidation, and mobile middleware.  The idea is that Linaro will be tuned to the very low-level capabilities of the ARM processor, enabling it to  squeeze the maximum performance out of the ARM chip.  Mobile phone makers will be able to shift focus away from low-end core OS capabilities and focus more on high-end features of the phones.   An example of one Linaro enhancement already complete is fast kernel bootup, so that devices can be available more quickly when powered up.

Canonical CEO Jane Silber said, “The existence of Linaro will significantly simplify the process of making Linux-based consumer devices available to market.”

Linaro is also another indicator that Linux is shaping up to be a powerful competitor in the mobile market.  Linux has done extremely well running high-end servers, and developments like Linaro mmeeans that it will also become commonplace in tablet and mobile devices.   Mobile phones using Linux has grown to about 14% compared to about 8.5% a year ago.  The first release of Linaro is scheduled to be out in November 2010 and will target the newest ARM Cortex-A processors.

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