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Linaro releases first code, demos on Cortex-A9 SoCs

Nov 10, 2010 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 6 views

Not-for-profit engineering firm Linaro has released a 10.11 version of its open source Linux code and tools for ARM Cortex processors. Meanwhile, Samsung, ST-Ericsson, and Texas Instruments are showcasing multiple Linux distros — including MeeGo and Ubuntu, running on Cortex-A9 SoCs — using Linaro-related code or tools.

Linaro was established in June as a not-for-profit engineering firm to develop standardized, open source Linux tools, kernel, and middleware software for consumer electronics using ARM Cortex processors. The company is jointly owned by ARM Holdings, Freescale, IBM, Samsung, ST-Ericsson, and Texas Instruments. It will initially support tools on distributions including Android, LiMo, MeeGo, Ubuntu, and WebOS (see farther below for more information).

Linaro offers its source tree to downstream mobile Linux distributions, also investing and aligning with upstream open source communities.
(Click to enlarge)

The 10.11 release is a standardized set of code and tools optimized and validated for a variety of ARM Cortex-A8 and -A9 system-on-chips (SoCs), says Linaro.

Key features are said to include:

  • completely rebuilt archive using GCC 4.4.4 and the latest ARM optimized toolchain
  • Linux kernel 2.6.35
  • support for cross-compiling
  • new hardware pack approach to building images
  • 3D acceleration improvements
  • U-boot enhancements and initial device tree support
  • new QA tracking structure

The main hardware development platforms for Linaro are the ARM Versatile Express, as well as two Cortex-A8-based, community-driven BeagleBoards. These include the TI OMAP3530-based BeagleBoard, as well as the newer, DaVinci DM3730 based BeagleBoard-xM (pictured at right).

In addition, the images have been tested and verified on's new PandaBoard, a development board (pictured at left) based on TI's Cortex-A9-based OMAP4430. As with the BeagleBoard, the PandaBoard offers an open platform aimed at hobbyist and prototyping duty, and is distributed by Digi-key.

Other validated platforms include Freescale's i.MX51 (Cortex-A8) development platform, and ST-Ericsson's ST-E U8500 development platform and dual-core, Cortex-A9 U8500 SoC.

Linaro 10.11 also supports an OMAP3530-based IGEPv2 module from Spain-based ISEE that has previously escaped our attention. (We plan to soon cover the IGEP in more depth.)

Focus on Cortex-A9

At ARM Techcon today and tomorrow in Santa Clara, Calif., Samsung, ST-Ericsson, and TI are showcasing three different Cortex-A9 based SoCs using software or tools that have been enhanced by Linaro's developers, says Linaro. In a LinuxDevices briefing with Linaro executives last week (see farther below), it was revealed that the demonstrated platforms include:

  • Samsung Orion running headless on Ubuntu, built with Linaro
  • ST-Ericsson ST-E U8500 running MeeGo, built with Linaro kernel and tools
  • TI OMAP4 running Ubuntu 10.10, built with Linaro tools

In addition to releasing Linaro 10.11, Linaro had several other announcements. These include:

  • the number of working groups has been expanded to five, covering graphics, multimedia, power management, tools, and kernel.
  • TI has joined ARM on the board along with IBM in representation of all Club Members.
  • Six months after its launch, Linaro has ramped its engineering team from 20 to over 70 developers, and will continue to add new talent every month, says the company.
  • Linaro has added community resources to its website, available to all.
  • A new advisory group for software distribution owners has been formed.
  • The board recently selected George Grey as CEO.

Linaro's second engineering cycle release, Linaro 11.05, is due in six months. In the interim, Linaro plans to invest in more open source projects relating to graphics, multimedia, and power management. In addition, it will expand the number of SoCs and cores that support the software, says the group.

A conversation with Linaro's Coombs and Rusling

Last week, in a discussion with Rob Coombs, head of Global Alliances at Linaro, as well as Linaro CTO David Rusling, the Linaro executives told LinuxDevices that although Linaro is a company rather than a community organization, all Linaro working group and platform engineering work is publicly available on Linaro's developer wiki. So the company has the feel of a dedicated community, they said, despite the fact the contributors are all huge semiconductor companies.

"One of the things that's remarkable with Linaro is the level of collaboration," said Coombs, who like Rusling, was formerly at ARM. "We're like a flotilla of ships heading in the same direction."

While competing semiconductor firms routinely join various consortium and standards organizations, investing in a joint engineering firm is something of a novelty. And it probably would not have occurred if not for the advance of the open source movement, Coombs suggests.

"We're responding to this whole philosophical shift and evolution of how organizations collaborate with open source software," said Coombs. "It's kind of a tectonic plate shift."

The decision to form a company was largely practical, added Rusling. "For an engineering driven firm, we needed a legal entity as a framework for funding," he said.

"We're not a standards group," Coombs stressed. "We wanted to create an organization that produces a lot of engineering. We wanted to create an execution engine to fix issues facing embedded developers."

One of the first orders of business was "trying to get the best integrated toolchain working," said Rusling, noting one of the key offerings of Linaro 10.11.

According to Coombs,  Linaro's Cortex-A optimized toolchain has already "started to be integrated with various distributions." He adds, "Roughly speaking, the toolchain produces code that's about ten percent faster."

When asked why Linaro's memership list is missing Nvidia and Qualcomm — two companies selling some of the most popular Cortex-A9 SoCs with their Tegra 2 and Snapdragon processors, respectively — Coombs replied, "We're open to new members, and we're having ongoing discussions."

We also asked whether the Linux Foundation's new Intel-driven Yocto Project could be considered an x86-oriented counterpart to Linaro. Rusling suggested it was a different beast, aside from the fact that it's a project and not a company.

"The Yocto Project is really focusing more on standardizing an integrated development environment and consolidation of build infrastructure," he said. By contrast, Linaro was building a wider range of tools, he suggested."We're very much an engineering-driven group, kind of a strange beast," he added.

Linaro background

When Linaro was established in June, the company said it was open to supporting any processor architecture with standardized open source Linux tools. Yet, ARM — and specifically ARM Cortex architectures — is the major focus. Optimized Linaro tools, kernel, and middleware software, including low-level power management and boot process software directly related to the Linux kernel will be validated for a wide range of SoCs, the company said.

As noted, initial OS targets are Android, LiMo, MeeGo, Ubuntu, and WebOS. Yet, as the initial demos suggest, Ubuntu and MeeGo, which both hew closer to a standard kernel and open source Linux sources than Android and WebOS, appear to be the early targets.

In addition to developing open source tools, Linaro will contribute code and invest resources in upstream open source projects to ease development using the increasingly complex SoCs used in consumer electronics (CE) devices.

Chief goals are said to include reducing power consumption, as well as improving boot time. Targeted products include smartphones, tablets, digital televisions, automotive entertainment, and enterprise equipment, says Linaro.

Linaro's contributions will allow device manufacturers to speed development time, improve performance, and reduce engineering time spent on non-differentiating, low-level software, said the company. Meanwhile, Linux distributions, as well as open source and proprietary software projects, are said to benefit from access to more stable, standardized code.


The following are edited versions of testimonial quotes supporting Linaro on its 10.11 release. Other companies submitting quotes included ARM, Compal, Freescale, IBM, and ST-Ericsson.

Stated Jim Zemlin, executive director of Linux Foundation, "The Linux Foundation welcomes the increase in upstream investment that Linaro has made on behalf of the ARM community."

Stated Morgan Gillis, executive director of LiMo Foundation, "We will continue to align with Linaro's activities through active participation with a view to produce further efficiencies for companies commercialising on the LiMo Platform."

Stated Ari Rauch, senior director of software and system engineering, OMAP products and wireless business unit at TI, "TI is thrilled to work hand-in-hand with the Linaro community to accelerate open source initiatives, and to align on the importance of reducing software fragmentation across the industry."

Stated Jim Ready, CTO of MontaVista Software, "Our goal is to integrate Linaro's open source projects into MontaVista Linux in order to provide commercial support and services for the ARM ecosystem and device manufacturers."


Linaro 10.11 may be downloaded here. More information on Linaro 10.11 may be found here. Linaro's new Community site may be found here.

Linaro members Samsung, ST-Ericsson, and TI will be demonstrating Linaro-related Cortex-A9 technology at ARM Techcon, which runs through tomorrow at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, Calif.

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