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Major EE trade journal discovers embedded Linux

Feb 28, 2006 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

One of the largest electronics design magazines has published an extensive, detailed primer on Linux in consumer electronics (CE). Written by Technical Editor Warren Webb, and published in EDN magazine, the well-written article presents an extensive list of advantages driving CE Linux adoption, along with a few lingering concerns.

EDN is a deeply technical, somewhat esoteric bi-weekly trade journal for electonics engineers. It seldom covers topics as mundane as embedded Linux, yet Webb is clearly well-versed in the topic.

Web notes that CE Linux emerged in parallel with low-cost, powerful hardware that obviates real-time process scheduling demands for many types of consumer devices. “Data rates have increased, [but] the timing of user I/O has remained relatively constant,” he writes.

Linux appeals to device designers, Web believes, in part because it tracks emerging technology trends closely, supports a wide variety of processor architectures, and has a modular structure that can be configured for specific footprint, functionality, and performance requirements very easily by software engineers previously tasked with writing and maintaining their own RTOSes (real-time OSes).

At the same time, many designers seek commercial help with Linux, and several RTOS vendors have added embedded Linux to their OS, tools, and engineering support service portfolios, as a result. The vendor-neutrality of CE Linux software and support marks another Linux plus, Webb notes.

Webb points out that Linux has been used in highly successful CE designs, listing the venerable TiVo, Sonos whole-house stereo, and Nokia 770. It also promises to shape future devices, such as Sony's PlayStation 3, he suggests.

CE Linux still faces challenges, though, Webb believes, both legally, from companies such as SCO, and from within, in terms of possible fragmentation. So far, fragmentation worries have been staved off by “an elaborate system of upgrade proposals and releases,” Webb writes. He also believes that designers of “deeply embedded” systems “in which a single ROM image stores all software” worry about the GPL's “code-isolation requirement.”

After weighing CE Linux's challenges and advantages, Webb concludes, “As next-generation CE devices come to market, designers must be ready to deliver complex user interfaces, network connections, and real-time data security on top of their custom application software. Linux offers a royalty-free, open-source operating system with these and other features built-in…. With these benefits and a growing base of technical fans, Linux has a bright future in the CE industry.”

An online version of the EDN story can be found here.

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