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Linux to grow 278% in embedded apps?

Sep 4, 2007 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

Linux use in future embedded projects will grow 278 percent over that in past projects, among commercial embedded OS users, suggests a recent study from Venture Development Corp. (VDC). Meanwhile, proprietary commercial embedded OS use is holding steady, gaining customers from do-it-yourself OS users, but losing as many to Linux, the analyst firm reports.

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VDC's finding, entitled “In one door, and out the other,” is based on a survey of about 220 users of commercial embedded OSes. Some 73.6 percent reported having used a “commercial embedded OS” — typically called an “RTOS” (real-time operating system) — in their previous project (see first chart, below). Of the remaining 26.4 percent, 11.4 percent reported previously having worked on a project involving no formal OS at all, while another 4.5 percent reported previously having used an in-house-developed, proprietary OS.

Primary OS used in previous project for respondents currently using a commercial embedded OS
(Source: VDC; N=220)

The VDC survey also asked 218 embedded developers currently using a commercial embedded OS what they planned to use in their next project (see following chart). Some 72 percent said they would stick with a proprietary commercial embedded OS. Of the remainder, planned Linux use represented the bulk — at 17.4 percent — and was comprised of 12.4 percent expecting to use non-commercial Linux, trailed by commercial Linux with five percent.

Primary OS expected to be used in next project for respondents currently using a commercial embedded OS
(Source: VDC; N=218)

Although not specifically mentioned by VDC, the charts' data indicate that total expected use of Linux in next projects (17.4 percent) will grow 278 percent over that in previous projects (4.6 percent), among users of commercial embedded OSes.

Stephen Balacco, director of VDC's embedded software practice, suggests that more powerful processors may have been responsible for driving new customers toward commercial embedded OSes. He stated, “New development projects represent an opportunity for commercial embedded OS suppliers to capture these OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] as they look to address increasing functionality that incorporates more powerful silicon and requires evaluation of competing alternative commercial solutions, rather than continue to use in-house developed and or no formal OS environments.”

It appears, however, that of the OEMs migrating away from home-grown and no-formal-OS environments toward off-the-shelf OSes, Linux — including both commercial distributions and community sources — is picking up most of the gain, leaving proprietary commercial embedded OS vendors treading water.

As Balacco noted, “This trend could continue to put pressure on commercial OS suppliers and their business models as OEMs consider the growing sophistication of publicly available Linux solutions and leverage the perceived benefits in terms of source code availability, reduced costs, and community support as an alternative to continuing to use a commercial OS in future device development projects.”

The findings are from VDC's “Embedded Software Market Intelligence Program - Volume 1: Embedded, Real-Time, and Mobile Application Operating Systems.”

Not noted by VDC, but perhaps relevant, are Linux's rapidly increasing real-time capabilities. Commercial provider MontaVista now claims its Linux implementation has removed all barrier to use as an RTOS, while Linux developer services provider Timesys recently published an informative podcast outlining the many real-time improvements to community-supported Linux, since the launch of the 2.6 kernel.

Further details on VDC's study are available on its website.

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