Ericsson and Red Hat have announced an initiative to develop consumer products and services based on the Linux operating system.
The companies will develop home communications products using Embedded Red Hat Linux and Java. The products will support broadband network and the evolving Bluetooth standard, which lets wireless devices communicate over short distances using low-power radio signals to transmit data.
The first fruits of the development will be Ericsson's cordless screen phone, which will be commercially available towards the end of the year.
Jan Ahrenbring, vice president of marketing and communications at Ericsson Mobile Communications, said the device would mark the first time Linux has been put on a telephone.
"We looked at Windows CE but chose Linux because it is very competitive and cheap software for consumers, and they can upgrade when they wish," said Ahrenbring.
Colin Tenwick, Red Hat's European general manager, explained that the software could be dynamically upgraded through a user's service provider.
"Our joint development with Ericsson is a major endorsement of open source technology and will have significant benefits for end users," he said, adding that Red Hat expects deals with other device manufacturers to follow.
"We've been putting the building blocks in place for post-PC devices. Via our acquisition of Cygnus and WireSpeed we have acquired technology needed for embedded Linux solutions. The functionality of embedded Linux will be different, and it will have a smaller footprint, but we're working to make the tool chain the same," said Tenwick.
As part of the initiative, Ericsson will work with Red Hat to establish open technologies - such as the latest Embedded Red Hat GNU development tools - that will be made freely available to developers through redhat.com. The companies hope to see the development of everything from business-class applications to computer games.
Jon Collins, technical director at independent analyst Sundial Consultancy, welcomed this and said the availability of better modelling and configuration management tools for Linux was needed for the initiative to take off.
"It's difficult to make the same application run on a handheld and a mainframe, so you need these kind of facilities to make it useful," he said.
Researcher IDC predicts that by 2002, there will be more than 55 million handheld and notebook-style information appliance devices worldwide and that by 2005, shipments of these appliances will exceed those of PCs.
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