LJ Archive

Linux at the Embedded Systems Conference 2002

Rick Lehrbaum

Issue #98, June 2002

At ESC in San Francisco, Rick finds that embedded Linux isn't “news” anymore.

The Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) held in San Francisco during the week of March 11, 2002 was expected to draw over 15,000 attendees from all facets of the embedded systems market. And, despite the much slower than expected economic conditions, event organizers reported that attendance reached around 12,000. Even with the attenuated turnout, this year's ESC product and technology expo was the largest ever, occupying two large halls in the sprawling Moscone Convention Center complex.

From the embedded Linux perspective, the really big news this year is that embedded Linux isn't news anymore! Embedded Linux is now universally counted among the top three “must-have” embedded OSes, which virtually all embedded hardware (chips, boards, systems), middleware, applications and tools must support. The other two are generally VxWorks and one or another flavor of Windows Embedded. Beyond embedded Linux, VxWorks and Windows Embedded, it now appears that all the other embedded OSes have been lumped into the nondescript category of “other” and are supported only when a major customer is willing to provide the funding or purchase commitment.

Here, then, are some highlights from ESC 2002 San Francisco, from the embedded Linux perspective.

Embedded Linux Consortium Kicks Off Embedded Linux Platform Standard

The Embedded Linux Consortium held an open technical meeting on March 12, during which the two-year-old group moved beyond its initial role of primarily evangelizing the adoption of embedded Linux to one of starting to create a unified embedded Linux platform specification (ELC Platform Spec). There were over 125 attendees, and although no sign-in sheet was circulated, the RSVPs reportedly included representatives of some of the world's largest and most influential software, semiconductor and electronics companies, including HP, Hitachi, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, Texas Instruments, Toshiba and Wind River.

Some observers have complained that the process of moving the ELC Platform Spec forward is going far too slowly to be useful to the market, while others are glad that a proper foundation (the Intellectual Property Agreement, or IPA) is now in place, allowing large corporations to participate fully in the spec development process. In any case, the ELC's initial bylaws prohibited standards development activities, so a formal document was certainly necessary to enable this important change to the group's charter.

The ELC meeting's two keynote presentations are available on-line:

The ELC has now formed its first working group, chartered to develop the new ELC Platform Spec, and is encouraging volunteers to join the efforts of finalizing the spec with an eye toward a 1.0 release by the end of 2002. Proposals for other working groups, having orientations such as real-time Linux, security, wireless APIs, high availability, device drivers, etc., have also been solicited by the ELC (www.embedded-linux.org).

A Quick Tour of the ESC Vendor Expo

A total of 39 companies listed themselves under the category of embedded Linux in the ESC show guide. Here is a sampling of some of the many embedded Linux-oriented demonstrations, technologies and products that I found at the show.

  • Arizona Cooperative Power (www.azpower.com): (in Hitachi's booth) Rob Wehrli demonstrated µClinux running on a new Hitachi H8S-2148AF development platform. Wehrli says the board is “especially designed for µClinux...and is intended to make it easy for educators, students and companies to explore µClinux running on the H8S without incurring a hefty equipment expense.” It is based on a 33MHz H8S-2674R and includes 8MB of SDRAM, 4MB of Flash and a 10Mbits/s Ethernet port, and will be sold for $199 US.

  • China MobileSoft (www.chinamobilesoft.com): made their first appearance in North America at ESC 2002, where they demonstrated mLinux, their embedded Linux distribution. They also showcased their embedded Linux GUI (mGUI) and microbrowser (mBrowser). Prior to the recent opening of a sales office in the US, MobileSoft's business has been focused on manufacturers of smartphones, PDAs and set-top boxes in China and Taiwan.

  • Lineo (www.lineo.com): held a press conference to announce several new partnerships and strategies associated with the set-top box, residential gateway and handheld computer markets. One interesting announcement was of a new Linux-based PDA (the Kaii, mentioned briefly in last month's column), which is being developed in India and has a software stack similar to that of the Sharp Zaurus. Lineo explained that they are in the process of repositioning their products and resources around three key markets: smart handhelds, digital media and residential gateways. This theme was reflected in the company's ESC booth demos, which were much more oriented toward application-specific solutions than generalized tools.

  • LynuxWorks (www.lynuxworks.com): announced the release of LynxOS version 4.0, which is said to feature Linux ABI compatibility. This means that LynxOS, a proprietary real-time operating system (RTOS) that previously offered a high degree of API compatibility with Linux (allowing it to run certain Linux applications after recompilation), should now be able to run some unmodified Linux binaries. Linux programs demonstrated running (unmodified) on LynxOS included the Opera browser and Quake. Note that this capability apparently requires that the Linux applications use dynamically linked libraries, since special versions of glibc library functions are required. LynuxWorks calls such programs “well-behaved applications” and points out that the LSB requires dynamic linking of libraries.

  • Microtronix (www.microtronix.com): (in Altera's booth) demonstrated a Linux-based board support package for Altera's ARM-based Excalibur development kit, which allows development of multiprocessor systems combining Altera's Excalibur hard-core “stripe” along with one or more of Altera's Nios soft-core embedded processors in the programmable logic portion of the device. The Microtronix support includes a multiprocessing mezzanine board with multiple expansion headers to support Ethernet and display adapter cards.

  • MontaVista Software (www.mvista.com): had their usual large pavilion with numerous hardware/software demos, including the MontaVista High Availability Framework, the Visual Age Micro Edition Java VM equipped with a Java AWT based on Qt/Embedded, a digital set-top box reference design based on IBM's PowerPC 405GP processor, MontaVista Linux running on the Sharp Zaurus PDA and a demo of the latest real-time features (and supported processors) of MontaVista Linux version 2.1. One really cool demo was of a real-live Linux-powered soft-drink vending machine (the USA Technologies ePort), powered by a RadiSys StrongARM-based embedded SBC running MontaVista Linux. MontaVista also announced the receipt of an equity investment from Panasonic Digital Concepts Center (PDCC), a subsidiary of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd.

  • Red Hat (www.redhat.com/embedded): demonstrated their embedded software family (Embedded Linux, eCos, RedBoot, GNUPro tools) and showcased some interesting design wins, including a Brother printer (based on eCos), Symbol Wireless barcode scanner (Linux), Rymic ruggedized vehicle computer (Linux), Ericsson's Screenphone (Linux), Sony's PS2 (GNUPro), Intel's residential router (Linux), Iomega's Hip Zip (eCos) and Delphi's auto telematics system (eCos). One particularly interesting demo involved the results of a recent investigation by Red Hat's Clark Williams, which compares two popular ways to improve Linux kernel preemption latency: the preemption patch (pioneered by MontaVista) and the low-latency patch (pioneered by Ingo Molnar). Which performs best? Both, as indicated by a detailed whitepaper available on-line at www.linuxdevices.com/articles/AT8906594941.

  • REDSonic (www.redsonic.com): showed the capabilities of RED-Builder, their GUI-based embedded Linux Image Creator and Integrated Development Environment (IDE), demonstrating the point-and-click simplicity of using it to build, download and debug complete, small footprint Linux systems for a wide range of embedded targets. Target platforms demonstrated included Ampro's EnCore 500 (x86), ITE 8152EVB (StrongARM) and MIPS 32-bit Malta Board. REDSonic also demonstrated SecureSOHO, a software stack for resource-constrained, Linux-based gateway/firewall devices, which provides extensive networking and security features along with an easy-to-use end-user configuration/control interface.

  • RidgeRun (www.ridgerun.com): (in Texas Instruments' booth) demonstrated DSPLinux, an embedded Linux distribution and toolkit for TI's dual-core (RISC/DSP) system-on-chip processors. At ESC, RidgeRun announced that they have added dynamic linking support to µClibc. Previously, developers of systems based on MMU-less processors (e.g., ARM7) had hesitated to use embedded Linux due to concerns about the ability to keep their application code proprietary for various reasons, such as partner licensing agreements or protecting trade secrets. Dynamically linking to the LGPL-licensed µClibc libraries eliminates that problem. The new µClibc dynamic link support is being made available as part of a new board support package for TI's TMS320VC5471 dual-core processor.

  • Vitals System (www.vitals.co.kr): (in Samsung's booth) demonstrated its family of vLinux Developer Packages, which are reference designs for Samsung's ARM7- and ARM9-based system-on-chip processors. The platforms include full source code and schematics, are sold for a one-time fee (without royalties) and are meant to provide turnkey designs for wireless LAN access points, SOHO routers and wireless LAN ADSL modem routers.

  • TimeSys (www.timesys.com): despite the stormy economy, rode a wave of good news to ESC, announcing the receipt of $15.5 million funding and issuing a press release declaring “Pioneer of Embedded Systems Software Poised to Assume Industry Leadership Role”. Their booth featured four demos that showcased their board support packages (BSPs), which include support for the TimeSys Linux/GPL Embedded Linux distro and associated toolchains, Windows cross-hosting support, plus add-ons for real-time performance, quality-of-service CPU reservations and real-time networking, running on a variety of processor architectures (x86, ARM, MIPS, PowerPC, UltraSPARC, XScale, SuperH) and SBCs. The company also announced several new BSPs and promised a steady stream of additional ones on an ongoing basis.

Elsewhere in the World of Embedded Linux

A new book on embedded Linux has been released by Addison-Wesley. Embedded Linux: Hardware, Software and Interfacing by Dr. Craig Hollabaugh is a 432-page book that teaches the development and implementation of interfacing applications on an embedded Linux platform. Hollabaugh says his book

documents “Project Trailblazer”, a hypothetical winter resort automation project—from initial funding, to design and then through implementation and system integration. You will follow the Trailblazer engineers as they select target hardware, create a development environment, interface various data acquisition, control, and multimedia devices, and then write device drivers and integration code.

Lineo tightens its belt (again). Citing “the impact of the economic downturn”, Lineo further reduced its headcount in March, from 138 employees to “between 75 and 80”, according to CEO Matt Harris. Harris says Lineo is continuing the process begun last fall of narrowing its focus to three key markets: handheld devices (PDAs and smart phones), edge devices (residential gateways, firewalls, routers) and digital TV (set-top boxes, entertainment systems). Last September, Lineo announced that it was laying off 60 employees and “spinning out” an additional 100, which was to leave the company with roughly 110 employees. A previous layoff, in June 2001, had reduced their workforce from 322 to 280. Harris expects the latest changes to bring about profitability by mid-2002.

Rick Lehrbaum (rick@linuxdevices.com) created the LinuxDevices.com and DesktopLinux.com web sites. Rick has worked in the field of embedded systems since 1979. He cofounded Ampro Computers, founded the PC/104 Consortium and was instrumental in creating and launching the Embedded Linux Consortium.

email: rick@linuxdevices.com

LJ Archive