Way back in 2004, Jonathan Schwartz, then Sun's chief operating officer, suggested that cars could become software platforms the same way feature phones were. He was right. But, it's Linux, not Java, which is making the most of "smart cars".
That's because Linux and open-source software are flexible enough to bring a complete software stack to any hardware, be it supercomputer, smartphone, or a car. There are other contenders, such as Blackberry's QNX and Microsoft IoT Connected Vehicles, but both have lost ground to Linux. Audi is moving to Linux-based Android and Microsoft lost is biggest car customer, Ford, years ago.
Today, as Dustin Kirkland, then Canonical product VP and now Google Cloud product manager, told me recently, "Ubuntu is in the Tesla and we support support auto manufacturers, but Tesla has gone on its own way. Tesla was so far ahead of the curve it doesn't surprise me that they did their own thing. But, Canonical expects most car manufacturers will work with Linux distributors to build operating systems that scale out for cars for the masses."
Much of that work is done via the Automotive Grade Linux (AGL). This Linux Foundation-based organization is a who's who of Linux-friendly car manufacturers. Its membership includes Ford, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Mercedes, Suzuki, and the world's largest automobile company: Toyota.
"Automakers are becoming software companies, and just like in the tech industry, they are realizing that open source is the way forward," said Dan Cauchy, AGL's executive director, in a statement. Car companies know that while horsepower still sells, customers also want smart infotainment systems, automated safe drive features, and, eventually, self-driving cars.