July 1, 2003

Consumer Electronics Linux Forum Web site launches today

- By Robin 'Roblimo' Miller -

This is a new effort founded jointly by Matsushita, Sony, Hitachi, NEC, Samsung, Sharp, Philips, and Toshiba. And according to this press release, IBM "is pursuing membership and plans to be an active participant in the CELF," too. Since all of these companies (except Philips) are major laptop computer vendors, does this mean we're going to be able to buy Linux laptops soon?

Well, no. The press release says:

"CELF will discuss and formalize requirements for extensions to Linux [*2] to meet the needs of CE products such as audio/visual products and cellular phones, etc."

[*2] Linux: POSIX compatible open source OS developed in 1991 by Linus Torvalds, who was a graduate student of Helsinki University. The source code is released under the GPL license and the development continues [by expansion or maintenance] by volunteers all over the world.

There will be an Architecture Group to accept or reject the code that will no doubt be contributed by thousands of eager programmers from all over the world who want to see Linux used in more consumer devices. They "welcome you to join the CELF and work with us to realize an open platform for compelling new consumer electronics products."

Don't think, though, that joining this project is as simple as signing up for a mailing list and suggesting a patch. Membership requires an application and agreement to a 19 page set of bylaws. And then, unless you are a "Special Supporting Member" specifically invited to join, you need to cough up between $4000 and $12,000, depending on the membership level that suits your fancy.

Non-member code submissions are accepted, as long as you include a paragraph's worth of non-onerous disclaimer (basically an agreement to release your code under the GPL or LGPL) with each submission, along with disclosure of any patents, patents pending or other claims you know about that might encumber the submitted code.

A number of the CELF site's pages still have "nothing here yet" messages on them, but the Steering Committee, at least, has been appointed and is apparently ready to get to work "enhancing" Linux for use in consumer electronics-type devices, starting with these initial goals:

  • Further improve the startup and shutdown time
  • Improve real-time capabilities
  • Reduce ROM/RAM size requirements
  • Improve efficiency of power management

All well, noble, and worthy, no doubt. I look forward to many exciting new Linux-powered consumer electronics devices hitting the market in coming years.

Meanwhile, it's too bad these powerhouse electronics companies can't do for laptops what they're doing for consumer devices. Think how lovely it would be to have a Linux-powered laptop with improved startup and shutdown time, reduced RAM/ROM requirements, and efficient power management.

I'm not sure how many Linux-powered "consumer electronics" devices I really need in my life at this point, but I assure you that if a CELF member come up with a laptop that incorporated these improvements -- or even one preloaded with an unenhanced, current Linux distribution -- I would seriously consider buying it.

And once I had that laptop in my hands, I would probably be more interested than I am now in the "compelling networked products" the CELF Web site says the group is dedicated to producing.

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