Engineers building ARM-based netbooks have their choice of a half dozen mobile Linux environments or they can roll their own. But each one has a slightly different mix of software components and the field lacks a consistent applications framework.
"The field is both crowded and scattered," said Bill Weinberg, a veteran Linux consultant.
"There are about six paradigms for writing a mobile Linux app," Weinberg said. "Until recently, these platforms have not been compete distributions, they were just open source projects built on other open source projects and the seams were meant to show," he said.
In addition, emerging netbook platforms will sport a wide range of different hardware peripherals. The two factors mean an application that might run well on one system could behave poorly or crash on another.
"Even if you sold systems just for email and browsing, you still have to have some compatibility and apps, so you need something at the application framework level, but there's not a lot of standardization there yet," said Weinberg who wrote a white paper on fragmentation in mobile Linux.
Berkowitz said the answer is to design netbooks as appliances with built-in browsers and email clients that tap cloud-based services from carriers or others to access a broader range of applications.
"There isn't a Windows framework for buying and downloading apps" on open Linux systems, said Berkowitz. "So the easier way to look at this is not running apps locally, but running them in a browser, then the challenge becomes how you manage files in the cloud," he said.
That would open up an opportunity for carriers, OEMs or others to provide netbook applications services. In April, AT&T started in offering in Atlanta and Philadelphia x86/Windows netbooks from Acer, Dell and LG for a subsidized price of $49 with a service contract.
"This whole space will get pushed pretty hard," said Berkowitz.
Indeed, the manager of TI's OMAP application processor group suggested many of the early ARM/Linux netbooks will come from cellphone, not notebook OEMs.