Linux — Coming to Consumer Devices Near You?

A recent article,“Electronics makers rally around Linux”, describes some of the work going on to make Linux more suitable for consumer electronics applications. In the interest of fair disclosure, I have friends who have investmetns in MontaVista Software. What could this consortium mean for consumer electronics products?

In my short life analyzing technology, I have seen standards bodies and consortia deliver incredible results (the IEEE 802.11 groups, for example) and less than stellar results (the IEEE 802.15.3 — it took a long time for the Bluetooth standard to get ratified).

If this group is successful in developing a CE-appropriate implementation of Linux, there are a few interesting things that could follow:

Time to Market – I do not know how much time CE manufacturers spend developing or customizing the embedded operating systems that they use to run most of their devices, but I have to believe that the ability to quickly implement an industry standard OS would cut down on the time to market when launching new products. Hopefully this will cut down the time between when a new product hits the drawing board and when it is available for purchase.

Broad Support for New Technologies – With a plethora of new technologies in the wings (UWB, 802.11g, and other wireless protocols), OS-level support would allow device manufacturers to more quickly roll out products that support these technologies as the necessary support/drivers would be designed for an industry-standard OS and would not need to be developed from scratch.

Lower Cost Consumer Electronics Devices? – If the costs associated developing embedded operating systems for consumer electronics is high, a move to a lower-cost, standardized OS could lower costs to consumers.

More Hacker-friendly Devices? – TiVos, PS2s, and Xboxes are already the frequent targets of the casual hacker. If these devices begin to run on an industry-standard OS that is well understood outside of the CE world, will people come up with more interesting, esoteric uses for these devices? Will developments such as the PS2 supercomputer become more pedestrian?