Embedded Linux OS

A survey of US embedded system developers released last month indicated that 45.3% expect to target Linux or any open-source OS in the coming year.

A survey of US embedded system developers released last month indicated that 45.3% expect to target Linux or any open-source OS in the coming year.

The respondents' four top-perceived benefits of using Linux are as follows: it is an open-source operating system, 67.9%; there are no royalties, 52.3%; it has a large developer community, 39.1%; and it is reliable and stable, 35.2%. The survey was conducted by Evans Data, a Californian research organisation that specialises in surveying developers.

The Evans data jibes very well with what developers told me. An embedded version of the Linux OS could be used on many types of wireless devices including handhelds, handsets and, as we shall see, even a wirelessly enabled watch.

When developers talk about using embedded Linux what they are really saying is that the operating system will either be working in a resource-constrained environment, such as limited power, space, heat emissions or price, or the OS is for a single-purpose device such as a storage appliance server. The point is, according to Boas Betzler, senior software engineer for embedded Linux at IBM in New York, that what developers are actually using is pretty much the full open-source kernel that you can get from www.kernel.org.

"Some take a standard system and just take out several things that they don't need. They get rid of 11 of the 12 web servers they don't need and the 300 games and thereby shrink the complete footprint of the stack," Betzler says.

Another plus is the fact that a lot of other embedded OSes don't have the system functionality that Linux has -- interacting with the internet, for example. Linux supports IP 6, the latest state-of-the-art protocol for mobile IP.

Linux also supports many architectures including Intel x86, PowerPC, StrongArm, MIPs, Zilog and Motorola's DragonBall. "The OS is already there. You have an app and recompile it with the same tools and same development environment," Betzler notes.

And of course you can have the same OS on the server, desktop and now handheld.

Linux started in smaller development environments but the benefit of the portability of code and reuse of skill sets is targeted directly at the heart of the enterprise.

The Linux watch comes out of IBM's labs in Tokyo with the help of its other labs around the world. The watch runs BlueDrekar, the Bluetooth stack for Linux developed in the Big Blue labs, and can do everything from starting your car, surfing the web, sending and receiving alerts, or updating your calendar and contacts.

Schwartz is an editor at large in InfoWorld US' news department. Send email to Ephraim Schwartz. Send letters for publication in Computerworld NZ to Computerworld Letters.

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