ARM and IBM give SoC tablets a Linux boost

ARM has joined with IBM and four other firms to create a not-for-profit company called Linaro, in a bid to make it easier to build Linux-based software for ARM's architecture.

The British chip design company, along with IBM and semiconductor firms Samsung, ST-Ericsson and Texas Instruments, announced Linaro's formation at the Computex show in Taipei on Thursday. The company aims to give Linux developers tools and software to help them compile distributions for tablets and other web-centric devices that use ARM-based system-on-a-chip (SoC) designs.

"As a founding member of Linaro, we are working together with the broader open-source community to accelerate innovation for the next generation of computing, focusing on delivering a rich connected experience across the diversity of devices in our daily lives," ARM chief executive Warren East said in a statement.

In the same statement, Freescale networking and multimedia chief Lisa Su said Linaro would speed up and simplify software development cycles. The general manager of Texas Instruments' OMAP platform business unit, Remi El-Ouazzane, added that Linaro would lead to "a more complete, higher quality development toolset that increases performance".

According to Linaro, the new company will boost the numbers of devices using Linux-based distributions such as Android, LiMo, MeeGo, Ubuntu and WebOS. Linaro's members have already donated around 30 engineers to the common cause — according to Ben Cade, co-chief executive for the company, that tally will reach around a hundred in "the next few weeks".

"Linaro is all about enabling this next-generation revolution of computing where we've got these rich user interfaces," Cade told ZDNet UK on Thursday. "Looking at the typical early adopter in the US today, the results are interesting — the growth is in always-connected, always-on devices. It's not coming from the traditional CPU.

"All of these devices are powered by SoCs, not a big CPU. Linux is pretty much the prevalent operating system powering most of those devices. The rise in open source is very closely tracked with the rise in the convergence platform of mobile computing."

According to Cade, the idea is to "consolidate the kernel and middleware" for ARM-based Linux devices, freeing up developers working on distributions such as Android to concentrate on the user interface. Linaro will also give device manufacturers "more choice as to which vendor to select their silicon from", he added.

Cade explained that Linaro will use working groups to address different types of devices — a group is already targeting mobile devices, and another could be established to work on digital entertainment devices such as set-top boxes. "We want to provide a common foundation that any distribution can build upon and apply to the market segments that are of interest to them," he said.

Linaro will release a "reference build" once every six months, starting this November, Cade said. "Our ethos is open-source development," he said, adding that Linaro would regularly contribute code upstream to the Linux kernel.

Linux is not the only operating system being pitched for ARM's architecture at the moment. On Tuesday, Microsoft released the latest version of Windows CE — now called Windows Embedded Compact 7 — to community preview, targeting the same types of tablets and set-top boxes for which Linaro is aiming.

Meanwhile, Intel is also targeting the tablet market with its x86-based Moorestown Atom chipsets, which can support both Linux and Windows.

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