LAS VEGAS Japanese consumer electronics manufacturers are backing away from efforts to push proprietary operating systems into wider use and are turning instead to open-source OSes, specifically Linux. The retreat underlines the failure of proprietary OS strategies for consumer electronics.
Sony Corp. and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. made it clear in separate interviews at the recent Consumer Electronics Show that they no longer plan to invest in maintaining their once-prized homegrown OSes: Aperious by Sony, and Pie by Matsushita.
The companies also revealed that industry-wide initiatives they once pursued eagerly, such as HAVi or the Java TV application programming interface, are no longer top priorities. Support for such consumer electronics alliances are dwindling, and the leaders of those alliances are now back-pedaling.
Sony's and Matsushita's alliance to develop a consumer electronics version of Linux indicates their changed stance, and other CE manufacturers are expected to join their effort. "A number of major consumer electronics manufacturers such as Samsung, Philips and LG Electronics, except for Toshiba, are joining this open platform initiative," said Kunitake Ando, Sony's chief operating officer, at the Consumer Electronics Show here.
Development costs and interoperability problems have given CE manufacturers a new impetus to develop a unified software platform, the companies said. Today's patchwork of protocol stacks and APIs have done a poor job and manufacturers are no longer willing to supporting so many OSes. "We just can't keep on developing different software for every new product," said Paul Liao, chief technology officer at Matsushita Electric Corp. of America.
"As a [consumer] system becomes more complex, functions are converging, and boundaries of existing boxes are blurring," said Leon Husson, executive vice president of consumer business at Philips Semiconductors. That leaves CE manufacturers little choice but to select a real-time OS capable of offering "an open platform," he said.
Efforts to develop a common OS is "a step in the right direction for major consumer electronics engineering," Husson said. But he cautioned that it would be a slow, ongoing process.
End to a dream
Consumer electronics companies could have opted for a closed architecture such as Microsoft's Windows OS, but many Japanese companies are wary of paying "a disproportionate amount of money" to an OS supplier, Husson said. The turn to an open-source OS marks the end to a dream Japanese companies nurtured for many years of creating a proprietary OS that would dominate the living room and dictate the development of next-generation digital consumer electronics.
Sony and Matsushita have already assembled a team of engineers to design a CE-oriented version of Linux. Still, the initiative will face a number of hurdles. One is uniting thousands of software engineers behind a single platform. Earlier this year, MontaVista Software Inc. introduced the Linux Consumer Electronics Edition, aimed at mobile gear and CE products.