Google's still-nascent efforts to dominate the mobile market, already reeling from Apple's surging iPhone platform, were dealt another blow on Thursday when Intel and Novell announced that they will collaborate to promote Intel's Moblin operating system, a rival Linux distribution for mobile devices.
Whereas Google is initially targeting smartphones with Android (though an Android-based Netbook has apparently been released), Intel is targeting Moblin at Netbooks.
Additionally, Android and Moblin aren't simply two different Linux distributions, in the way that Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server are. Android and Moblin use Linux in different ways, as Dirk Hohndel, Intel's chief Linux and open source technologist, suggested to me:
Moblin is Linux for mobile devices, (and its) first focus is on Netbooks. Android is an (operating system) for phones that uses a Linux kernel...very different.
Novell's Justin Steinman, vice president of solution and product marketing, said in a follow-up conversation:
Moblin 2.0 is the first open-source Linux software stack and technology framework designed from the ground up for the Netbook device type. Essentially, Moblin plans to start at the Netbook layer of the stack, and then work its way down to the smaller mobile devices. Given Novell's strength in delivering desktops based on Linux, it made sense for us to collaborate closely with Intel to deliver the optimal user experience on Netbooks.
Given Apple's rising dominance in smartphones and Symbian's lingering power in other mobile devices, this seems like a smart, strategic move. The Netbook market is still wide open, with Apple currently disdaining to enter it and Microsoft bleeding cash to hold its ground against Linux.
Though Ubuntu made the first forays for Linux in the Netbook market, could it be Novell and Intel that end up dominating it?
Maybe. Maybe not. The one sure thing, at least for now, is that Microsoft may win the short-term Netbook war, but it still needs a long-term, winning game plan for mobile.
The mobile market is fascinating because it is uprooting long-held beliefs about how and where to compete in software. Intel, Google, and Apple, each fiercely contending for dominance, share a common strategy: they're investing in the operating system but planning to make their money elsewhere (Atom chips, in Intel's case; advertising and revenue-sharing with application vendors, in Google's; hardware and revenue-sharing with application vendors, in Apple's).
Such strategies stand in stark contrast to Microsoft, which persists in trying to monetize its mobile Windows platform.
Small wonder, then, that Microsoft is losing the mobile battle. It's fighting with the wrong ammunition.
Back to Google. While it seems clear that Intel's Moblin initiative is an attempt to fend off Google's looming Android threat, there's probably enough time for Intel and Novell to stake out a strong position in Netbooks that Google will struggle to overcome.
Regardless, the one player left out in the cold in all this activity is Microsoft. Google, Novell, Intel, and Apple are each putting hefty resources into winning the mobile market, but doing so in a way that undermines Microsoft's traditional approach of licensing only the software. Microsoft's Xbox experience suggests that it can do hardware right, but will it be able to catch up if it starts chasing its competition?
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