Because anyone can take Linux and use it as they wish without needing to ask permission (provided they comply with the licence), it ends up being used in lots of places that we rarely hear about. This contrasts with proprietary operating systems, which only get used if they are licensed directly, which means that the licensor always knows exactly what is going on – and can issue yet another boring press release accordingly.
This contrast between much-trumpeted proprietary activity and near-invisible open goings-on is probably most acute in the world of embedded devices. Most people aren't even aware that there is an operating system being used in many of their more "intelligent" consumer electronics devices, let alone that it is likely to be a variant of Linux.
The reasons why free software is so popular in this domain aren't hard to find. First, Linux comes without a per-device cost – hugely important when profit margins are wafer-thin. Secondly, Linux can be modified to suit particular needs – something that is harder to achieve with proprietary systems that need permission to change. And finally, Linux is robust, compact, fast, and secure – indispensable qualities for devices that would never recover from an invisible Blue Screen of Death.
So the following move by the Linux Foundation and the Consumer Electronics Linux Forum makes a lot of sense:
The Linux Foundation, the nonprofit organization dedicated to accelerating the growth of Linux, and the Consumer Electronics Linux Forum (CELF), a nonprofit organization and international open source software development community focused on embedded Linux, today announced they will merge organizations, resulting in the CE Linux Forum becoming a technical workgroup at The Linux Foundation. As part of this merge, The Linux Foundation will expand its technical programs in the embedded computing space.
The Linux Foundation's Executive Director, Jim Zemlin gives some more details in a blog post:
CELF was founded in 2003 and is made up of the largest consumer device makers in the world: Sony, Sharp, Panasonic, Samsung, LG, NEC, Hitachi, and many more. We plan on doubling the CELF technical programs budget in order to support projects that are important to consumer electronics use of Linux. We plan on providing more embedded Linux content at all Linux Foundation events to educate and train developers in this fast-growing sector. And we will expand our training program to cover things like performance tuning for embedded systems and even more device driver courses.
He also announces a new programme for the embedded space:
We call it the "Yocto Project." For those unfamiliar with the term, Yocto is one of the smallest units of measurement, ten to the minus 24th or a "septillionth." This name fits because Yocto is an open source project that will provide high quality tools to help companies make small, custom Linux-based systems for embedded products, across any hardware architecture. This isn't another version of Linux or another way to "solve fragmentation" - this is simply a set of tools that make the lives of those who build embedded Linux systems easier. So, while this project will help consolidate and accelerate the development of these types of tools, it will also help the users of those tools to create many MORE versions of Linux – specifically those targeted for their custom hardware.
Although some might cringe at the prospect of more versions of Linux, the important thing to remember is that these will be largely invisible, hidden away in the thousands of new devices. As a result, Linux will continue its march to world domination of the embedded sector – but it's unlikely that anyone will even notice...