In a move that could potentially bring Linux to the masses, eight of the world's top consumer electronics vendors have formed an alliance to promote development of the open-source operating system for use in digital devices including audio and visual equipment and mobile phones.

Sony, Philips Electronics and Matsushita, which makes the Panasonic brand, are among the founding members of the CE Linux Forum (Celf), which was announced today. Its goals include defining the technical requirements that will make Linux more suitable for use in consumer electronics products, and promoting wider use of the OS in the consumer electronics industry, according to a joint statement.

The Celf will publish its list of requirements and take submissions from Linux developers who contribute to their goals. Work to be done includes reducing the time it takes to start up and shut down the OS, improving its real-time capabilities, reducing memory requirements and improving power management capabilities, the group said.

The move appears as something of a blow to Microsoft which has been promoting the use of its own software in DVD players, televisions and other electronics gear. Bill Gates, the company's chairman and chief software architect, has been the opening speaker at the giant Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas for the past several years.

Formation of the Celf builds on an announcement in December by Matsushita and Sony, who said they had agreed to enhance the Linux platform for use in their audio and video products. At that time they also said they were considering establishing a forum to promote the wider use of Linux with participation from peers in the industry.

Since Linux is an open source product, vendors can access its source code and make whatever changes they like so long as they share their modifications freely with others. The software also carries no licence fees, which could make it well suited to the consumer electronics market where sales volumes are often very high.

Besides defining requirements for a variety of extensions to Linux, the Celf's main goals include "collaborating and reaching consensus with open source projects" and the broader community of Linux developers and promoting the use of 'CE Linux', as the group called it, in the industry.

Linux code developed for the industry can be submitted to a Celf Architecture Group and Steering Committee, the group said Tuesday. Code that is accepted will be included into the CELF source tree, which itself will be open to the public, according to the group's website.

The other members of the group are Toshiba, Hitachi, NEC. Samsung and Sharp. IBM is also "pursuing membership in the group" and plans to be an active participant, according to the Celf statement. IBM couldn't immediately be reached for comment.