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Article: A walk on the Embedded side . . . of LinuxWorld NY

Feb 8, 2001 — by Rick Lehrbaum — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views founder Rick Lehrbaum takes his customary “walk on the embedded side” of the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo held last week in New York City. In this article, Lehrbaum describes what he observed and gives his impressions of current trends in Embedded Linux — the next big frontier for Linux . . .

After three days of roaming some 100,000 square feet of exhibition area populated by 200 companies' exhibits and attended by perhaps 20,000 “Penguinistas”, I've certainly had an eyeful of Linux!

What a place! I ran into Linus Torvalds (“father of Linux”) twice — once on his way to The Golden Penguin Bowl (“Well, I'm off to make a fool of myself,” said Linus) and once in Linuxcare's booth (with his wife and their new baby). At another point, I found myself sitting beside Eric Raymond, author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar and credited with being the chief evangelist for open source software (“Hi,” I said, “I'd just like to say thank you for your work on behalf of open source software.”).

In my many zig-zags across the great expo floor, one question I kept hearing was “What do you think of the conference?” After letting it all sink in for a few days, I've come up with a few general observations . . .

  • More “suits” — there were a lot more glitzy exhibits, and there were fewer of the small (10 x 10 ft.) booths.

  • Linux hits adolescence — there seemed to be much more of an air of a maturing industry in comparison with last year's New York show, with companies like IBM, Intel, Compaq, Sun, SGI, and HP very much in evidence.

  • More exhibitors — the exhibit area seemed to have doubled in size since last year's New York show.

  • Embedded has arrived — a common theme just about everywhere was the growing importance of Linux in “devices” and embedded systems.
In fact, I'll venture a (self-serving?) prediction that this year is shaping up to be “the year of Linux in Devices” — with products like Linux-based PDAs, cell phones, web pads, and set-top entertainment systems hitting the market in growing numbers as the year rolls on.

Of the 200 exhibitors, roughly twenty identified themselves in the Show Guide as offering “Embedded Systems” products but nearly twice that number were promoting Embedded Linux products or services of one kind or another.

In case you missed the show, here's a brief summary of what I found . . .

Accelent Systems — showed their Integrated Development Platform, an embedded Linux and StrongARM based reference platform that helps companies develop Linux-based Internet appliances and other embedded devices.

Applied Data Systems — despite having all of their booth equipment lost in transit, ADS showed four demo's of their GUI-oriented embedded Linux and StrongARM based single board computers (SBCs). These included: the Bitsy, a 3″ x 4″ SBC running embedded Linux; the Tandem, a two-headed StrongARM SBC running two independent displays off one processor under embedded Linux; the Graphics Client Plus, running Century Software's Linux desktop toolkit; and the Graphics Master, running embedded Linux.

Axiom — showed a number of embedded and industrially oriented single board computers in the PC/104, EBX, 3.5″, and half-size slot-card form-factors. Axiom's products are now, apparently, supported under Linux.

BSDi — one of the signs at the BSDi booth was about something called “eBSD — the Internet Expert's Choice to Embed in Internet Applications and Appliances.” There wasn't any further explanation available, nor was anyone around who could tell me anything about the company's strategy with respect to the embedded (BSD) market. Watch for further information about eBSD here at, some time soon.

Century Software — at a pedestal in Red Hat's pavilion, Century Software's Microwindows, ViewML, and PDA software toolkit were being demonstrated on three platforms . . .

  • The first public demonstration of full motion MPEG video under Microwindows, based on a fast framebuffer display technology known as Simple DirectMedia Layer (SDL), was shown running on an ADS Graphics Master SBC.
  • Microwindows, the latest ScreenTop PDA suite, 802.11 wireless networking, and Doom (the game) were all being demonstrated on a Compaq iPAQ. Century Software CEO Greg Haerr described the latest ScreenTop programs as “more user-friendly and 'Palm-like'.”
  • None of us want to wait twenty or thirty seconds for our toasters to boot their embedded operating systems, right? In this third demo, an SIS motherboard was shown booting all the way to the Microwindows desktop in just seven seconds — quite an accomplishment! The secret to doing this is a combination of LinuxBIOS, the Memory Technology Driver (using a DiskOnChip flash disk), a small foot-print Linux kernel, and, of course, Microwindows.
Compaq — naturally, they were showing off the exceedingly popular StrongARM-based iPAQ PDA, which these days seems to have become the preferred platform for Linux PDA software development. Just try to buy one!

Coventive — this company's LinuxWorld debut featured a massive, circular pavilion with a large number of Coventive and partner product and technology demo's distributed all around its circumference . . .

  • Axis Corporation's (Japan) canD, a very small, stylish, and easy-to-install Linux-based TV set-top box with a remote control. It contains a customized GUI and Linux software which fits in 8MB ROM, all based on Coventive's XTinux Embedded Linux operating system.
  • A Chinese Linux PDA manufactured by Legend, based on an Intel StrongArm processor and Coventive's XTinux. The device has a full-featured browser, with PIM/SYNC funtions as well as handwriting recognition for simplified and traditional Chinese.
  • A Linux-based online stock trading software application was demonstrated on Coventive's set-top box reference design.
  • One of the first Linux-based smart card readers, from Disonic (Taiwan)
  • A “Gigabyte Server Appliance” with easy-to-use GUI and containing Coventive's Linux OS embedded in ROM, “allowing non-techies to set up and monitor the network environment.”
DevelopOnline — this web-based open platform development center showcased both its online capabilities and its partners, in five demo's . . .
  • The STMicroelectronics STPC system-on-chip Internet Appliance reference design
  • A demo of the DevelopOnline Integrated Development Environment (IDE), showing precisely how developers can use the service to upload and test software on selected reference platforms using one of several online Embedded Linux software development kits (SDKs).
  • RidgeRun, a DevelopOnline partner, explained and demonstrated DSPLinux, an Embedded Linux OS specifically tuned to the requirements of TI dual-core processors that combine ARM and DSP processors on a single chip.
  • Insignia Solutions' Jeode Embedded Virtual Machine (EVM) Java-compatible embedded software environment was demonstrated on a ThinkPad running Red Hat Linux.
  • A remote demo, accessed via DevelopOnline's web technology, was shown running the Jeode EVM and the PointBase embedded database running on an iPAQ under Hard Hat Linux.
Hewlett-Packard — demonstrated the new Chai Appliance Platform for Linux, a suite of integrated software components for creating Internet-enabled information appliances.

IBM — showed their ever-popular Linux wrist-watch, a complete Linux system in the body of a tiny (56 mm x 48 mm), geeky looking watch. IBM was also demonstrating DB2 Everywhere, a database for embedded systems that fits in less than 150KB memory, which was announced at the show. In another part of their very expansive booth, IBM was showing a “technology demonstration” of a Linux-based retail Point-of-Sale (POS) system.

Intel — showed several demonstrations of Embedded Linux, including the Assabet reference design for the StrongARM SA-1110 (which forms the basis of Compaq's iPAQ design). The Assabet was running from a battery pack and, according to the Intel spokesperson, achieves 10-12 hours of operation with the LCD backlight turned off or roughly 6 hours with the backlight on. Intel's new XScale microarchitecture, the successor to StrongARM, was also being demonstrated running Embedded Linux at the MontaVista and LynuxWorks booths.

Lightning Instrumentation — showed a miniature Embedded Linux based router device, the MultiCom Ethernet II. Lightning-Linux, the Embedded Linux OS used within the MultiCom router device, is also being made available independently of the hardware. Much of Lightning-Linux is apparently available under GPL.

LinAXE Project — at a tiny booth, a brand new project had just set up shop: the “linAXE Project”. linAXE started out as an effort to develop a Linux-based RTOS to control the popular “BattleBots” fighting robots, thus the combative name. Since then, the linAXE Project has broadened its scope.

Lineo — as usual, Lineo's pavilion was bustling with activity and provided many interesting demonstrations . . .

  • The successor to Lineo's uCsimm, the uCdimm. The new soDIMM form-factor (1.7″ x 2.7″) SBC is based on a DragonBallVZ microcontroller and, not surprisingly, runs uClinux.
  • Trolltech (a Lineo partner) was present, demonstrating Qt/Embedded and the Qt Palmtop Environment (QPE).
  • Rappore (a Lineo partner) was present, demonstrating an Embedded Linux based Bluetooth stack in a demo that consisted of a doll house with lighting, garage door, etc., controlled by a notebook computer — with everything interconnected via Bluetooth wireless communications.
  • The Lineo SecureEdge VPN router platform was demonstrated.
  • A small PowerPC-based Embedded Planet PC/104 form-factor single board computer was used to demonstrate M-Systems' latest DiskOnChip embedded Linux driver.
  • The new Lineo “Academic Student Kit” was on display. This kit, which contains a uCsimm, the uClinux OS, a small experimenter board, and a detailed instruction manual, will be sold to students for $250 which includes courseware and software CDs. Thirteen universities are already using the kit as part of their computer science classes.
Linux Journal — many copies of the premier issue of the Embedded Linux Journal, which is being offered free “to qualified individuals,” were laid out on a table for all to enjoy. Eighty pages of useful information about Embedded Linux!

LynuxWorks — both the open source Blue Cat Linux and the proprietary LynxOS real-time OS (RTOS) were being demonstrated in the LynuxWorks pavilion, which now represents the combined strengths of LynuxWorks and ISDCorp, a company acquired by LynuxWorks last Summer. Demo's included . . .

  • One of the most interesting demo's at the show was the showcasing of “Linux application binary interface (ABI) compatibility” of a preview version of the next release of LynxOS. A copy of Quake was downloaded from the web and compiled on a standard (x86) Linux system in a completely standard manner. Then, the compiled Quake program was transferred to a LynxOS system and run on both systems (Linux and LynxOS) at once. An identical resource-hogging program (a simple “while loop”) was then started on both systems, resulting in jerky video performance. Then, real-time priority was adjusted on the LynxOS RTOS system, demonstrating the real-time performance capabilities of “a true RTOS”. According to LynuxWorks chairman Inder Singh, this represented the first time any RTOS company has demonstrated such a high degree of “ABI compatibility” with Linux — fulfilling a promise made by Singh just over a year ago to bring LynxOS into ABI compliance with Linux. (hrm . . . I suspect “full ABI compatibility” is quite a bit more difficult than simply running Quake — but it's certainly a good start.)
  • The new SpyKer real-time event profiler and trace tool was demonstrated.
  • PhatNoise's Phatbox, an automobile MP3 player based on embedded Blue Cat Linux, was demonstrated.
  • A high-availability chess game, based on Blue Cat Linux with host fail-over, was demonstrated at Intel's booth.
  • M-Systems DiskOnChip support for Blue Cat Linux was demonstrated.
Metro Link — (at Coventive) demonstrated Micro-X a windowing solution for Embedded Linux. “Micro-X is based on the X Window System protocol, so you won't have to learn a new interface to develop for embedded systems,” they say. Micro-X was shown running on an Intel StrongARM SA-1110 platform. Micro-X fits in as little as 575K of memory and supports x86, PowerPC, and ARM/StrongARM, and will soon also support MIPS.

Metrowerks — showed their recently enhanced CodeWarrior Integrated Development Environment (IDE), which provides embedded debugger and remote debugging capabilities, on a Motorola PowerPC 8260 reference board and an Embedded Planet PC/104 form-factor PowerPC 823 SBC. The booth's theme: “Embedded Linux — increasing the IQ of Smart Devices.”

MontaVista — there was lots to see, with eight product demo's and five partner demo's. Some highlights of are . . .

  • A high availability (HA) CompactPCI system demo, based on Hard Hat Linux, Ziatech and Motorola CompactPCI processors, MontaVista's High Availability software, backplane networking software, and “hot swap” drivers
  • Various demo's of cross development tools, graphic embedded kernel configuration tools, graphical IDEs, remote debuggers, and performance analysis tools
  • @win, a small footprint (200KB) GUI / windowing system from MontaVista partner Adelinux (Korea), running on a Compaq iPAQ (compatible with GTK/GTK+ and QT tool kits)
  • a Compaq iPAQ PDA running Hard Hat Linux and the X Window system, with Internet browsing via Netscape 6 and displaying live video within an X window
  • MontaVista's approach to a “hard real-time” Linux kernel was demonstrated using two identical systems running sound applications. One had a “vanilla” Linux kernel, while the other contained MontaVista's real-time enhancements. The CPU and scheduling latency for each was shown on a continuously refreshed chart.
  • Motorola's 74xx Altivec processor running Hard Hat Linux on a Motorola Sandpoint embedded reference design
  • Support for Embedded Java Applications under Hard Hat Linux was demonstrated, based on IBM's VisualAge Micro Edition (VAME)
  • IBM's 750CX/CXe PowerPC running Hard Hat Linux
  • a StrongARM based customer retail point-of-sale subsystem (designed by RadiSYS for USA Technologies), called ePort, was shown two ways: as an exposed electro-mechanical subsystem, and mounted inside a soft drink machine; so now, you can browse the web while you buy your Coke!
  • a customer's 1U “industrial strength” rack-mount gateway appliance (made by Diversified Technologies) with “Hard Hat inside” was demonstrated
  • one of the first working demonstrations of embedded Linux (Hard Hat Linux, of course) running on Intel's new XScale microarchitecture (the next generation of the StrongARM processor) was shown running on Intel's XScale evaluation platform
Neoware — Neoware's award-winning Eon computing appliance (“the Anything Box”), running the Neolinux 2.0 Embedded Linux operating system, was demonstrated. Unique Internet appliance oriented features such as ezConnect (a simple user interface) and ezSnap (a software distribution capability) were demonstrated.

NexCom — showed a number of embedded and industrially oriented single board computers in a variety of popular form-factors, large and small. NexCom's products are now, apparently, supported under Linux.

OnCore Systems — demonstrated OnCore Linux for Real-Time, a real-time platform which can host multiple copies of Linux in a “hard real-time” system environment.

PEP Modular Computers — showed their 3U and 6U CompactPCI boards and systems which are now, apparently, supported under Linux. These kinds of products are used in high reliability systems for telecom and Internet infrastructure, industrial control, military, and medical applications.

Portwell — showed a number of embedded and industrially oriented single board computers in EBX and other embedded and industrial form-factors. Portwell's products are now, apparently, supported under Linux.

Red Hat — showcased three examples of embedded technologies . . .

  • Century Software occupied a pedestal in the booth and showcased Microwindows, ViewML, and their PDA applications toolkit (these are all discussed above)
  • The Red Hat Embedded Linux Development Kit was demonstrated running on a Motorola MBX860 EBX form-factor single board computer.
  • uClinux and eCos were shown running on a NetSilicon NET+Lx reference design system.
RedSonic — showed the RedIce-Linux real-time Linux operating system and associated development and debug tools. Additionally, RedSonic showed off its hardware/software set-top box real-time and embedded system reference design.

Sun Microsystems — showed several demonstrations of the J2ME Java for embedded devices, which supports Embedded Linux based systems. Hardware platforms included the Compaq iPAQ PDA and an Arcom embedded Linux reference platform. The J2ME occupies between 2 and 4 MB of memory space. Wireless 802.11 technology was also demonstrated on the iPAQ embedded Linux system.

TimeSys — showed five demos of real-time Linux that demonstrated the quality-of-service (QoS) and real-time capabilities of TimeSys' Linux/RT operating system . . .

  • an Embedded Planet PowerPC 860 board running TimeSys Linux/RT with TimeTrace being used for dynamic visualization of system events and context switches
  • JTime, the TimeSys real-time Java virtual machine, running on top of TimeSys Linux/RT, controlled a small robot via a wireless serial connection
  • a StrongArm-based Corel NetWinder system demonstrated Linux/RT's quality-of-service (QoS) capabilities, through the reservation of computation time on behalf of two chess programs
  • the QoS capabilities of Linux/RT were also demonstrated on a desktop system, by assigning network and CPU reservations for video and audio conferencing software, demonstrating the capability to maintain acceptable live audio/video performance despite heavy system loading
  • Quake III was shown running on a Linux desktop with CPU reservation controlled by a unique “QoS knob” that altered the QoS setting — you could turn the knob clockwise/counterclockwise and watch the game's performance get better/worse right before your eyes!
Transvirtual Technologies — demonstrated the latest version of PocketLinux, a Linux/Java implementation for PDAs, handhelds, and embedded computers. Interesting new features shown included 80-2.11 wireless communications, plus MPE and MPEG media players. Many PIM applications are now available for PocketLinux, including both utilitarian programs (calendar, address book, memo pad, email, flash player, instant messaging, XML/XHTML browser, . . .) and “tons of games.”

Trolltech — demonstrated Qt/Embedded and the Qt Palmtop Environment (QPE) running on an Compaq iPAQ PDA. They were also giving away free floppies containing a PC-bootable Embedded Linux system consisting of: Qt/Embedded, PIM applications (Date Book, Address Book, Text Editor, File Browser, etc.), and games (Mine Sweep, Tetrix, Solitaire). The floppy image is downloadable from Trolltech's website.

Viosoft — showed their embedded Linux cross-platform SDK for RISC platforms, including MIPS, ARM/Strong/ARM, and PowerPC. They also demonstrated Arriba!, a Java-based Integrated Development Environment (IDE) with a windows-style graphical debugger.

ZF Linux Devices — showcased support for their MachZ system-on-chip, including: the tiny MachZ demo board plus the MachZ Integrated Development System, a MachZ-based Internet Appliance reference design, and Tri-M's MachZ-based PC/104 form-factor SBC that's featured in Embedded Linux Journal's design contest.

As you can see, there were lots of embedded products and demonstrations at LinuxWorld — many more than at the previous shows. At the rate Linux is penetrating the embedded market, we can expect to see an even greater amount of Embedded Linux activity at the next US LinuxWorld Expo and Conference, to be held August 27-30 in San Francisco, CA.

Will you be there? I will!

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