Linux is heading towards becoming the leading OS in mobiles, according to the executive director of the Linux Foundation.

Speaking at the Open Mobile Exchange section of the O'Reilly Open Source Conference (OSCON) in the US, Jim Zemlin, highlighted the trends and technologies that are pushing Linux into a leadership position in mobile systems.

Zemlin said Linux has emerged as a primary platform, even on the desktop, and it has also spread to devices such as gas pumps and medical equipment. Additionally, it is being deployed in Wall Street trading, in consumer electronics, and on Mars in space-based equipment.

"It's clear that Linux is going to be a leader in the mobile space," he said.

Linux, according to Zemlin, offers a unified product platform, flexibility, and a software stack. It also has experienced an increase in the volume of software content, with the lines of Linux handset code doubling every year.

"Really, what's happening in mobile is instead of having a hardware-up approach, you're starting to see a software-down approach," with the software experience driving the mobile marketplace, he said.

By supporting Linux, developers do not have to contend with compatibility issues of supporting different platforms. The industry wants to get away from that, he said.

"It's just a nightmare to support all these different OS' and try to maintain some degree of compatibility," Zemlin said.

Different middleware packages and application development frameworks are available for Linux. "There's a huge freedom to mix the core Linux kernel," he said.

Business drivers for Linux include reduced deployment costs, room to differentiate, and an ecosystem of development around phone platforms. "It's obviously a royalty-free platform. That's a huge business driver," said Zemlin.

"Linux really allows device manufacturers and new people to come in and create their own brand," he said.

Symbian's move to open source has had a negative impact on Windows, leaving it the only royalty-based mobile platform, said Zemlin.

Linux application development is starting to coalesce around initiatives such as Google's Android and Linux Mobile Foundation (LiMo) , he said. Other Linux efforts are afoot such as Openmmoko, to create a smartphone platform, and Ubuntu Mobile, said Zemlin.

"There really isn't any major player from a corporate point of view who doesn't have their foot in some way in the Linux camp, other than Microsoft," said Zemlin.

Other efforts involve development of Linux mobile devices such as notebook systems. "You're going to see 50 of those companies launch next year," Zemlin added.

NEXT PAGE: Are developers ready for the mobile web explosion?

Linux is heading towards becoming the leading OS in mobile computing systems, according to the executive director of the Linux Foundation.

Jason Grigsby, web strategist at mobile and web design firm Cloud Four, meanwhile emphasised that the mobile web is coming, but developers are not ready yet.

There are 3.3bn mobile devices on the planet, he said. "That's one for every two people, and more than the number of PCs, cars, televisions and credit cards," he said.

He lauded the capabilities of Apple's iPhone and what it has done for mobile computing. "The iPhone is really the Mosaic of the mobile web," opening people's eyes to opportunities on the mobile side the way Mosaic did with browsers, Grigsby said.

But the mobile web is being held back by UI issues and access to the device characteristics on the phone. Standards and performance also are issues.

Grigsby predicted more fracturing, proprietary extensions, and a return to the browsers wars on the device side. There are many different browsers, he said. A lot of mobile browsers are designed around Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) rather than featuring full desktop rendering technology such as JavaScript, Grigsby said.

Web developers, he said, have become bandwidth gluttons, spoiled by high-speed broadband connections they won't have on mobile devices.