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Skirmishes along the boarder of the PC

Sigfrid Lundberg's Stuff 2010-06-15

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Tablets, eReaders, Smartbooks: You Name the Device and It’s News at Computex writes Katie Morgan of Advanced Risc Machines (ARM). You may not know about it, but just as Intel rules the desktop, the British chip design company's ARM Architecture rules the pockets.

According to Wikipedia, 90%+ of all embedded devices and an even higher proportion of mobile devices are designed around the ARM Architecture. There's.a fair chance that both your phone, your wireless router and your fridge are all ARM systems.

Most new gadgets appear first at Computex, and most of them are based on the ARM architecture.

The chip territories

The mobiles and the tablets are currently given prominent positions in the news feeds, and as I write this entry one of them is more often than not top news item in Google News' Sci/Tech section. It is usually about Apple's iPhone or iPad, both of which, by the way, like the Android systems, are ARM.

Intel has tried to establish itself in this area, but have not been able to get an increased market share by winning customers from ARM. The tablet is a new market segment, and the race has started to gain control over this as yet unchartered land. The chip Intel tries to market is the Atom processor which, of course, is x86. See, for instence: ARM and Intel's new battleground: the living room

Software frontiers

At basic academic levels there's differences. Frontiers. Different academic traditions expressing themselves in people's pockets.

For those who don't know the history of the Unixes, it is well worth to know that Linux is a reverse engineered variant of the AT&T System V Unix originally by Linus Torvalds who at the time lived in Helsinki. There is also a free Unix coming from the Berkeley Software Distribution BSD Unix. BSD and Linux come with very different open source licenses.

Google's Android and Chromium are both Linux platforms (hence Helsinki and Stanford Universities), whereas iPhone OS is a redecorated Berkeley Unix with a Mach kernel. Yes, it is a Mach kernel, Mack as in the speed of sound, not Mac as in Macintosh. These gadgets are somehow affiliated to University of California and Carnegie Mellon University. It shouldn't surprice you that Steve Wozniak got his training in computer science and electric engineering at Berkeley.

Whenever there are conflicts, people form alliances, sometimes new and entirely unexpected:

  • The good news is that we finally have an operating system to unite behind. Android is an operating system that has gained a tremendous amount of momentum all over the world [...] Android has become the fastest growing mobile operating system in the world and, in fact, it has surpassed the iPhone in terms of growth and in terms of users, said Jen-Hsun Huang, president and CEO at Nvidia

  • Global leaders Intel Corporation and Nokia merge Moblin and Maemo to create MeeGo, a Linux-based software platform that will support multiple hardware architectures across the broadest range of device segments, including pocketable mobile computers, netbooks, tablets, mediaphones, connected TVs and in-vehicle infotainment systems. [...] MeeGo will be hosted by the Linux Foundation and governed using the best practices of the open source development model. intel.com

    Just recently Meego 1.0 was released. A lot of creative work focus on Meego, and it seem to gain impetus, there are aleady quite discussions around it and even a positive review in ArsTechnica, where you can find a discussion of the prospects of the system.

  • This is very hardware oriented alliance, formalized as a not for profit company. Its mission is so.interesting, so I just had to quote the whole list:

    • ARM, Freescale, IBM, Samsung, ST-Ericsson and Texas Instruments have created the not-for-profit company, Linaro, committed to providing new resources and industry alignment for open source software developers using Linux on the world’s most sophisticated semiconductor System-on-Chips (SoCs).
    • Linaro will invest resources in open source projects that can then be used by Linux-based distributions such as Android, LiMo, MeeGo, Ubuntu and webOS.
    • Linaro will provide a stable and optimized base for distributions and developers by creating new releases of optimized tools, kernel and middleware software validated for a wide range of SoCs, every six months.
    • Linaro's base of software and tools will be applicable to a wide range of markets, helping reduce time-to-market for products such as smart phones, tablets, digital televisions, automotive entertainment and enterprise equipment.
    • Linaro's first software and tools release is due out in November 2010, and will provide optimizations for the latest range of ARM® Cortex™-A family of processors.

    From linaro.org. Obviously, Linaro's mission is to ensure that there will be a Linux kernels and device drivers for a large number of mobile platforms. See the point here? All of a sudden it will be as easy to install Ubuntu Linux on a smart phone as it is on a standard PC today.

Anyone perceiving a pattern? There are many companies out there that right now who see opportunities for innovation and business. Quite a few of them would very much like to see one or more of the actors Google, Apple and Microsoft dwindle. Furthermore, there are some that wouldn't mind a bit less influence of either Intel or AMD.

The PC and the Tablet

I read and write mail, manage my calendars, surf and do some of my wordprocessing with my tablet. That is, I want a hand-held gadget which enables me to be creative anywhere anytime. This is pin-points one of questions most important questions: Why do we buy gadgets for computing in the first place?

The vendors have obviously radically different views on the future of computing. Recently Steve Jobs claimed that the PC as we know it is like an old truck and that the future belongs to the tablets. Steve Ballmer participated in the same conference and disputed these claims. He seemed to be convinced that the desktop PC will continue to be the workstation for a foreseeable future. Read more about what the blogosphere is saying about D

The PC as we know it will continue to morph, he said. The real question is what are you going to push. In Microsoft’s case, the answer is more installations of Windows. To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail; we have a hammer, Mr. Ballmer joked. The problem is, it isn't funny.

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