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Linux Devices Coming to Market

HP Storage Box, Symbol's 5081 Wireless AP

  • October 6, 2006
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

Business and consumer users will soon be hooking up their Windows-based desktop and mobile PCs to more Linux-enabled devices, as witnessed by a new multimedia storage box from HP as well as the planned announcement of new wireless hardware from Symbol later this month.

Somewhat hidden within HP's launch of otherwise Windows-driven consumer products last week was the fact that the HP Media Vault, one of the newly announced entries, uses embedded Linux underneath the covers.

At the same time, HP's new PC gaming division, now being forged out of HP's recent Voodoo acquisition, is taking a more than serious look at adding Linux machines to its previously Windows-only line-up.

Meanwhile, vertical market maven Symbol Technologies is talking up intentions to roll out the AP 5081--a new Linux-based wireless access point (AP)--at the end of October.

HP and Symbol have both been close partners of Microsoft's for many years on end. So why did HP pick Linux as one of the operating environments for its new Media Vault, a portable hard drive unveiled along with two new PCs at a press conference in New York City last week?

And what's prompted Symbol to pick Linux as the embedded OS for its wireless APs, including the upcoming, ultra-"ruggedized" 5081?

In interviews with LinuxPlanet, spokespersons for the two OEMs offered two very different sets of reasons.

In addition to supporting the HP Media Vault's multimedia storage and back-up capabilities, Linux turned out to be a sleek enough embedded environment to allow for inclusion of a media player inside, said Allen Buckner, an HP product manager, speaking with LinuxPlanet at the HP launch.

"The client software runs on Windows, but the boot-up software is Linux," Buckner told LinuxPlanet.

During an onstage demo at the HP event, company officials showed how musical tunes and HD (high definition) video can be streamed among the Media Vault and other new multimedia products from HP, such as the HP Pavilion dv9000t notebook PC and Media Center TV m7600n Series desktop PC.

Also at the event, HP intro'd a smaller multimedia storage device, dubbed the HP Pocket Media Drive, in addition to a new HD DVD-ROM drive and a handheld PDA. Called the HP Travel Companion, the Windows Mobile-based IPAQ brings together GPS with both WiFi and Bluetooth wireless and an MP3 player.

On the storage side, where the Media Vault holds up to 1.2 TB of data or multimedia, the Pocket Media Drive comes with a choice of 80 GB or 120 GB capacity. However, the smaller storage device does not require any embedded OS at all, LinuxPlanet was told.

Symbol, on the other hand, started to adopt Linux a while ago for its wireless APs. In a meeting with LinuxPlanet at a Symbol press event, held the same week as the HP launch, Anthony Bartolo, VP of Symbol's RFID and Wireless Infrastucture Group, contended that Linux is already a "widely accepted" OS for use on networks.

At the Symbol event, reporters and editors caught a sneak peek at the AP 5181, slated for announcement later this month and characterized by Bartolo as Symbol's most "ruggedized" AP yet.

Like Symbol's smaller AP 5131, introduced during September, the AP 5181 will support WiFi 802.11 a/b/g as well as mesh networking, an emerging architecture for extending the reach of a wireless network.

At Interop Las Vegas last May, Symbol announced plans for a future Wireless Next Generation (Wi-NG) architecture, which will ultimately consolidate Wi-Fi, mesh, RFID, WiMAX and VoWLAN (voice over wireless LAN) into an integrated RF switching platform.

Other products from Symbol, such as the SR400 and RD5000 readers, already support RFID. "Eventually, those RFID readers can be deployed and managed by our Wi-NG architecture as well," a Symbol spokesperson said this week.

During last week's Symbol event, Bartolo said that Linux will also be a cornerstone behind Wi-NG, since it provides a flexible structure for separate management, application, services, and infrastructure layers.

With the AP 5131 and the forthcoming AP 5181, Symbol is leaving the door open for cellular wireless support, too. "Support for cellular would be determined by customer demand," LinuxPlanet was told this week.

The AP 5131, first introduced about a year ago, is designed for indoor use mainly within settings like manufacturing plants and distribution centers--although many companies now utilize it, too, in office environments, said another Symbol employee, during a mini-expo at the Symbol press event.

"The 5131 gives you a router, a firewall, VPN support, and a wireless access point all in one," he told LinuxPlanet.

In contrast, the bigger AP 5181 will be targeted at outdoor environments for use by security and transportation workers, for instance. Doubling as a wireless AP and a bridge between wireless segments, the device will feature a special enclosure aimed at warding off high winds, rain, and snow.

Also in New York, Symbol previewed the new WT4000 series of wearable mobile computers, set for announcement on October 10 at Post Expo in Amsterdam.

The WT4000 series will constitute the first wearable PCs from Symbol to support voice-only, text-only, and "combination" voice and text applications, said Brian Viscount, Symbol's VP of mobile computing, speaking at the Symbol event in New York last week.

Available with a choice of back-of-the-hand or ring scanners, the WT4000 series will also offer increased ruggedization, with added protection against both drops to the ground and extreme temperatures.

Based on conversations between LinuxPlanet and these two companies, it seems as though we'll be seeing other Linux-enabled devices in the near future.

Will the upcoming Linux machines include gaming devices from HP? This could be quite likely. But will Symbol turns to Linux with its wearable PCs and scanners? That answer isn't the same.

Beyond serving as the launch pad for new multimedia hardware, HP also used its event in New York to announce the acquisition of computer gaming specialist VoodooPC, along with a vision of making the gaming market a top priority for HP.

On stage at the event, HP announced a product concept codenamed "Panoply," revolving around a large, semicircular LCD viewing screen which is designed to support 3D visual effects. About 60 percent of computer gamers today use three or more flat panel displays during gaming sessions--but these flat panels leave gaps in the viewing area, the HP executives said.

HP intends to build a new gaming group around Voodoo--an entity that will remain based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada--and to keep the Voodoo brand. Voodoo's previous co-owners, Rahul and Ravi Sood, will act, respectively, as chief technologist and director of strategy of the HP group.

After the on-stage presentation, HP opened up a room at the Manhattan Center that was packed with Panoply and other gaming environments. Reporters and editors enthusiastically took over the controls of driving and shooting games.

When approached by LinuxPlanet for a comment about HP's plans, if any, for Linux-based gaming, HP officials deferred the question to the Sood brothers

"There's a lot of interest in Linux among our users," responded Rafi Sood. He also told LinuxPlanet that a Linux-enabled Voodoo gaming device appears to be in the cards for the future.

Meanwhile, Symbol, a property recently acquired by Motorola, has no plans at the moment to produce Linux-based mobile PC/scanning devices, despite Symbol's ongoing use of Linux for wireless networking, according to Bartolo.

Currently, all of Symbol's wearable/handheld devices are runring either Windows CE or Windows Mobile, the Symbol executive said.

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