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Linux is Gaining Pace in Consumer Electronics
August 28, 2003

Linux, currently an operating system mostly used to power servers and some personal computers is also emerging as a small footprint operating systems for devices like mobile phones, remote controls and TVs, set top boxes and DVD recorders.

The consumer electronics industry has chosen the Linux platform in large numbers. For us, Linux has several advantages said Gerard Kleisterlee, Chief Executive at Philips Electronics, Europe's biggest and the world's No. 3 consumer electronics maker in a recent interview to Reuters.

Last month, eight of the world's largest consumer electronics makers, including the numbers one and two Sony Corp and Matsushita of Japan, have set up an alliance to develop and promote Linux for consumer electronics products. Main reason for this team up is the low cost and the freedom to tweak the Linux operating system.

Linux's key advantage over other operating systems is that the core software is freely available and widely embraced. In the cut-throat electronics business where profit margins are one or two percent at the best of times, every saving is welcome.

The consumer electronics makers sell millions of devices while their profit margins are extremely slim. If they have don't have to pay royalties it works directly through to their bottom line, Martin Fink, head of Linux activities at Hewlett-Packard, told Reuters in an interview.

At largest trade fair for consumer electronics - IFA in Berlin, the first Linux products are already on show and more will come soon.

Linux kernel can be as small as 1 MB if embedded in a consumer electronics product. Just for comparison, a single high quality digital picture or one minute of MP3 music can be stored on 1 MB of memory.

The Consumer Electronics Linux Forum (CELF) is an industry group that is focused on the advancement of Linux as an open source platform for consumer electronics devices.

U.S. electronics maker Motorola has launched a Linux mobile phone for the Chinese market while Philips has a remote control running on Linux for all the electronic devices in a home.

Next target is the 164 million units a year global television set market as well as the millions of set top boxes and DVD recorders. These devices need more powerful chips and versatile software like Linux to connect easily to other devices in the home and the Web.

Consumers are embracing home networks to hook up their computers with always-on, fast Internet. Common practice in the near future will be playing music and displaying pictures and films from the Internet and PCs on TVs and HiFi sets.

Sony, Philips and Samsung Electronics all showed home network boxes that will transfer digital content from PCs and the Web to consumer electronics devices.

Worldwide, over 21 million consumers have a home network this year, a number that is expected to double within two years and treble within four.

In Germany, the number of DSL subscribers will surpass 4 million this year and some 12 percent of all European households currently have broadband Internet access. That could be around 30 percent by 2007, according to research groups.

While there are some proprietary operating systems in use within consumer electronics, the future is bright for Linux.

© 2003 Ilker Atalay
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