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Matsushita & Sony Shun Microsoft, Launch Linux Digital Media Platform

Matsushita & Sony Shun Microsoft, Launch Linux Digital Media Platform

Consumer electronics biggies Sony and Matsushita have put aside their hereditary rivalry long enough to combine on an open source Linux-based digital media platform. They will be developing a purpose-built Linux operating system to use in myriad consumer devices including TVs and DVDs. They are hoping to finish it by March.

The two might ultimately invite other players to the party, such as Hitachi, IBM, NEC Electronics, Royal Philips Electronics, Samsung Electronics and Sharp. Microsoft, which is aggressively pushing into the digital media market, is conspicuously missing from the list, although Matsushita denies it is forming an alliance to compete against it.

Sony and Matsushita have yet to release any specifications on their platform, but did say that it would adhere to the General Public License (GPL), which of course requires that source code be shared. GPL rules also require that any software derived from GPL'd code be released under the GPL as well.

Clearly one of the goals of the axis is to slash the expense of an embedded OS - widget makers are highly sensitive to cost of goods - by splitting the cost of common features. Certain features, such as USB, networking and MP3 decoding support, are expected to be available on all digital media products and aren't differentiators.

There are, for instance, literally hundreds of different portable MP3 players on the market, but in terms of the operating system, all of them are basically the same. All MP3 players basically do the same thing. The guys who make MP3 players compete on style, size, weight and storage capacity.

GPL is a form of self-protection. It makes it kind of hard for a partner to swoop in, add some crucial, patented extensions and then release the result as a closed-source proprietary product.

Linux also offers a reasonable library of digital media code. Mplayer, an open source digital media application for Linux, for example, unites every single digital media format into a single player, even Windows Media and RealNet-works' RealOne formats. And Mplayer is used as the core of a popular Linux digital video recorder (DVR) program called Freevo.

Sony and Matsushita already have a bit of a history with Linux. Sony is using it in its broadband-ready Cocoon DVR console, currently available only in Japan. Sony has also released a programming kit for its popular Playstation 2 that uses Linux as its development environment. Game programmers who want to use Linux to create games can use Playstation 2 Linux to load Linux onto the console and develop directly instead of using a PC with a Playstation 2 emulator.

Matsushita got into Linux indirectly last March when Panasonic, one of its subsidiaries, invested in embedded Linux house MontaVista Software. The move came two months after Sony, IBM Microelectronics and Intel Capital also invested. Yamaha and Toshiba subsequently put money into MontaVista. Then Japanese computer juggernaut NEC signed a deal this month to use MontaVista's Linux in an upcoming digital media server for the home market that will be able to record TV programs and network TVs, other consumer electronics devices, PCs and even cell phones.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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