April 19, 2007

GNOME Mobile and Embedded Initiative launched

Author: Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier

The GNOME Foundation is scheduled to announce the GNOME Mobile and Embedded Initiative (GMAE) today at the Embedded Linux Conference in Santa Clara, Calif. The initiative is aimed at bolstering GNOME usage as an embedded and mobile development platform. Founding members include open source organizations and commercial interests such as ACCESS, Canonical, Intel, Debian, Nokia, Red Hat, Fluendo, the Linux Foundation, and Maemo.

The initiative has been in development since last year, says GNOME Foundation board member Jeff Waugh. GNOME participants got together to discuss a "more formalized community approach to GNOME mobile and embedded technologies" at the GUADEC conference in July.

Since the first meeting, Waugh says that the initiative has "brought together an incredible team, defined the GMAE platform, learned from more success with shipping devices, and proven what we can achieve together as a focused community. Members have cooperated on major GNOME performance work, and brought many vendor patches for mobile and embedded functionality into the main [GNOME] tree."

The GMAE platform includes a subset of GNOME technologies used on the average Linux desktop -- specifically, the GTK+ toolkit, the Gstreamer multimedia framework, Telepathy, Avahi network service discovery, Evolution Data Server for contacts and calendaring, and BlueZ Bluetooth support. The platform will provide APIs for developers working with C, C++, and Python.

The platform will be distributed under the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL), which makes it useful for proprietary and open source projects alike. In the next 12 months the group plans to add a mobile email framework called Tinymail, the GeoClue geolocation service, Java Mobile & Embedded (Java ME), PulseAudio audio management, and the HAL hardware information system.

You may already be using the GMAE platform. According to the group's release, the platform is present in the Nokia N770 and N800 Web tablets, the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, and the OpenMoko Neo1973 mobile phone, among others.

Many open source industry groups focus on contributing standards or guidance, but GMAE is one of the few that plans to worry about actually shipping usable product. David "Lefty" Schlesinger, director of open source technologies for ACCESS, says that GMAE is all about shipping code. "We're not about standards and requirements docs, we're about code."

Schlesinger also says that the group has already had some success in bringing together the players who work on GNOME technologies in embedded and mobile devices. He says that there were some issues with adoption of current versions of the GTK+ toolkit due to performance problems with Cairo on machines without floating point processors, such as the ARM processor. Through the group's twice a year meetings, Schlesinger says that the initiative was able to gather enough data to determine the problem and work toward a solution to provide better Cairo performance on other CPUs.

Given the focus on embedded equipment, how does the initiative affect the average GNOME desktop user? Waugh says that improvement of GNOME's "mobile experience" will improve the platform for all involved, with "integration of mobile technologies into the desktop environment, which will help laptop users in particular, and a better experience for users working with multiple devices, such as laptops, phones, and PDAs."

Schlesinger says that the formal announcement is just "the first step in opening" GMAE for participation, and that "we're open to anybody that participates in GNOME."

Waugh says, "GNOME has always had a fantastic combination of community and commercial uptake. GMAE continues that into new markets, with massive industry and community support. It is primarily about writing code, sharing work on our awesome platform, and supporting the ecosystem around it.

"With the demonstration of GMAE technology on so many device profiles -- Web tablets, UMPCs, mobile phones, specialised laptops, and scientific/education measurement tools -- we're seeing the GMAE platform grow into entirely new markets, and even creating new markets. We are extremely proud of these 'beautiful new ideas' that we have contributed to through our great platform."