Google’s forthcoming open-source platform for smartphones, called Android, promises to spur the creation and adoption of new mobile-phone applications. And many of them will likely run on top of MontaVista, the leading Linux-based smartphone operating system. MontaVista chief executive Thomas Kelly answers the questions.
Q. Google has set up a group of companies, called the Open Handset Alliance, to help develop Android applications. Will MontaVista join?
A. Absolutely. We consider the OHA to be very compatible to everything we’re doing. We think it’s great that Google is lending its name to the emerging Linux marketplace today. We believe it will bring power, strength and additional leadership to the industry.
Many of the members of OHA are MontaVista customers and partners, as are members of other mobile industry consortiums such as LiMo, LiPS, and CELF.
With consortiums, it is not when an organization joins that matters, but how much an organization gives back to the consortiums’ communities. We were neither a founding member of LiMo nor of LiPS, but since we joined both organizations we established a history of making valued contributions to them and have become leading members. We expect that the same will happen with MontaVista and OHA.
Q. How do you expect the Android platform will affect the Linux smartphone industry?
A. OHA Android will provide an entire upper-layer phone stack that is open. Before this, even though MontaVista provided an open mobile operating system, the upper-layer functionality was provided by a variety of closed, proprietary software stacks.
OHA includes major mobile carriers and major handset manufacturers that will allow Android and Android-compatible applications to run on their phones. This means that instead of having to modify mobile applications many times into a different variation for each carrier and each handset, a mobile application developer will be able to write an application once that will run unchanged on many handsets and many carriers.
According to IDG, Linux is already the second-most commonly-used operating system for mobile devices. Google’s move into the mobile industry validates the use of Linux as the best operating system for mobile handsets and will expand the market for mobile Linux. This is extremely good for the entire industry, and for MontaVista. For Linux to succeed in the mobile world, we need the participation of the entire mobile ecosystem, including developers, manufacturers and carriers, as part of the Linux community. Google’s involvement will help propel participants towards this goal.
Q. Was Google’s announcement a surprise to you?
A. We’ve heard rumblings that they were heading in this direction for a long time.
Q. There has been criticism from Symbian and others that the Linux mobile community is fragmented. Won’t Google add to this or do you think the opposite will be true?
A. To the extent that OHA will focus on delivering high quality, fully tested, well integrated software — that will go a ways toward bringing some structure and organization to the mobile Linux community.
There are those in the industry that continue to ship almost no-quality Linux operating systems in order to say that Linux runs on their processors. Their view is that somehow adding no-quality free Linux enables customers to see more value in their processors. We have always maintained that for commercial use, Linux needs to be assembled, validated, and distributed in a professional manner. However, much of the industry operates more or less as an extension of untested Linux…steps like we’re seeing with OHA I think moves us more in the direction of the quality and the standards that MontaVista has endorsed for some time now.
Q. Do you think the potential unwillingness of handset carriers to carry open-source phones will be a roadblock for Android?
A. Carriers want to offer their customers quality applications and differentiation in the marketplace. We believe Linux is the most powerful operating system in the marketplace to do that.
Q. What makes Linux better than proprietary OSs?
A. Linux has the ability to take advantage of this incredible open-source community, which involves the largest group of developers in the world collaborating together and building on the underlying strength of everything Linux can do in terms of networking.
Q. What do you think will be the biggest challenge facing Google with Android?
A. Any time you pull together a consortium of companies, execution has got to be the obvious challenge. I believe Google has the resources and the market position to be able to do that and that’s why I think it’s going to be positive. The challenge in any endeavor is the execution.
Q. Is Google’s involvement the best thing that could happen to the mobile Linux market?
A. It’s certainly a very positive move forward for the Linux operating system community. A very positive step.