June 23, 2009, 5:02 PM — A development center built through a partnership between the Taiwan government and chip maker Intel plans to make the Moblin Linux operating system popular in small devices by creating applications as well as incubating a developer base on the island and in China.
The Moblin Enabling Center (MEC) in Taipei plans to increase its staff to 30 engineers, from 20 currently, by the end of this year as it seeks to dramatically increase the number of applications available for the Moblin operating system, according to Phoenix Lee, a section manager at the Moblin Enabling Center, which is run by Taiwan's publicly funded Institute for Information Industry.
The group also plans to start reaching out to university students to build Moblin application development groups, she said. Initially, the MEC will work with National Taiwan University, considered the best school on the island, but it will expand to other schools in Taiwan and then to China. The MEC hopes to attract student software developers to Moblin through contests and the potential to make money through a Moblin application store similar to Google's Android Market, which includes both free and for-pay downloads.
The MEC opened last December to promote Moblin among Taiwanese device manufacturers and create new applications. The operating system was optimized to work with Intel Atom microprocessors, low-power chips made for small devices. Taiwan contributed money, the lab and engineers to the MEC project, while Intel added technical expertise, a few full time engineers and marketing support.
Taiwanese product makers such as Acer and Asustek Computer will be able to test Moblin in their devices at the MEC, once the compliance testing center opens there later this year. A test kit will be available for Moblin v2.0 around August, followed by the release of the final version of the OS and then the opening of the testing center.
But test support is only part of the mission. Expanding the popularity and developer base are just as important.
"That's (testing) not enough, we need lots and lots of applications to be successful," said Lee.
A number of Linux software makers have already jumped on board with Moblin. Around 15 companies showed off their own versions of Moblin early this month at the Computex Taipei 2009 computer show, including Novell with its SUSE Moblin, as well as Red Flag, Xandros, Linpus and Wind River Systems, which has agreed to be bought by Intel.
One reason Taiwan is so keen on Moblin is because of a long history working with x86 chips such as Atom in computers. Taiwanese companies have been part of the PC industry for years, and x86 chips are a PC mainstay. Taiwan hopes to see Intel succeed in taking x86 chips into smartphones because government officials believe the island will have an advantage over rivals due to years of experience with the chips.
"Moblin is the OS optimized for the Intel Atom processor," said Lee. "When Intel gets into smartphones on the x86 platform, we will be right there."
Taiwanese companies are already leading the charge for Intel in small handheld devices similar to smartphones. Several companies have launched handheld computers Intel calls mobile Internet devices (MIDs), with slightly larger screens than most smartphones. Taiwanese manufacturer BenQ, for example, made the S6, which has already been launched by Italian mobile carrier TIM, while Gigabyte Technology created the M528, which is being sold by Chunghwa Telecom in Taiwan.