This is one post in a series, describing challenges we need to overcome to make free software ubiquitous on the desktop.
This world is increasingly defined not so much by the PC, as by the things we use when we are nowhere near a PC. The music player. The smart phone. The digital camera. GPS devices. And many, perhaps most, of these new devices can and do run Linux. Free software in the embedded market is becoming a commodity, in the same way that MS-DOS and then Windows made the PC a standardised software environment.
Except that Linux in the gadget sector is still very much a black art, a highly fragmented story where devices are all use vaguely similar but ultimately different free software – at every level, from the kernel on up to the GUI.
There have been many attempts to “make a platform” for the mobile and embedded markets that can rival what Microsoft has achieved on the PC. Microsoft themselves, of course, are pushing hard to extend the Windows franchise into the mobile and gadget space, with some success if I look at the quality of their latest releases of Windows Mobile.
Symbian was an interesting attempt to create some commonality without creating a hegemony, but ultimately I think that effort foundered on the rocky shores of a trust-less industry. It’s hard to imagine an industry more plagued by distrust than the complex web of manufacturers and operators that makes up the modern wireless telecommunications sector.
Which leaves us looking for something more. I think Linux has potential in this sector, and Trolltech does too by the looks of things. But they sell software and at Ubuntu we give it away, so I’ve yet to make the case in my head for Ubuntu to get involved despite the fact that many folks have urged us just to do it. Whether we do or don’t, I think its a great area for new free software developers to focus their attention. There is tremendous change, and change always creates opportunity.