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Embedded Linux Flexes Its Muscles @ ESC 2001 38

Posted by Hemos
from the showing-off dept.
A reader writes "This is Rick Lehrbaum's "traditional" report on "all things Linux" at the Embedded Systems Conference which took place during the week of April 9, 2001 in San Francisco, California. Lehrbaum briefly describes many of the Embedded Linux oriented exhibits, takes us on a photo tour of some cool Embedded Linux based devices that were being shown off, and offers his assessment of the current state of the Embedded Linux industry. There's even a "best of show award" for the "geekiest demo" at ESC! Full report is on Linuxdevices.com"
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Embedded Linux Flexes Its Nuscles @ ESC 2001

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  • I guess he's never heard of/used QNX, ChorusOS Nucleus, or ThreadX. I did however like the gadgets, but taking a look at the last week, with all the Linux related companies going to the dogs , and 4 distributions going "kaput" within less than 6 months time, I would be looking at other alternatives to Linux, especially if my business were going to depend on them.

    Of course you could look at RTEMS. The longstanding (1988, way before Linux existed) Open Source real-time operating system. It is as good as (many say better than) vxWorks, ChorusOS, Nucleus and ThreadX. http://www.rtems.com [rtems.com]

    The one thing you wont get with RTEMS is the hype and geeky admiration of Linux geeks (or vxWorks, QNX, Windows CE, PalmOS,etc luvvies). You just put it in things you *REALLY* want to work.

  • Agreed, but then there lies the question of actually knowing what your internals are like, and as with an OpenSource based system versus closed source binaries, you have that flexibility to fix, change things on your own.

    Exactly. If you don't have an knowledge to debug the Linux kernel then it really isn't all that advantageous to use it over anthing else, unless you consider the ability to whinge on a newsgroup about the problem and hope someone fixes it for you. :-)

    But, as you said, if you've got the know-how you can at least attempt to fix it on your own. And if you're designing embedded systems chances are you have enough knowledge, gumption and/or instinctive knowledge to do it anyway. And therein lies the Open Source magic bullet.

  • I guess he's never heard of/used QNX, ChorusOS Nucleus, or ThreadX.

    Aside from QNX, I've never heard of the others and I do embedded systems design for a living.

    I did however like the gadgets, but taking a look at the last week, with all the Linux related companies going to the dogs, and 4 distributions going "kaput" within less than 6 months time, I would be looking at other alternatives to Linux, especially if my business were going to depend on them.

    As another poster mentioned, what exactly do linux companies have to do with embedded linux? RedHat could die tomorrow. Big whoop. The beauty of the core system being totally open source is that if it's THAT important to you, you can continue where they left off. Many embedded Linux kernels are based off of the base Linux system or uClinux with or without the hard realtime scheduling patches.

    If your core system is working just fine and the company supporting it dies, did you really lose anything? If a user discovers a nasty-ass bug that is traced to a core function or otherwise is a problem with the Linux core... you do have the source. You can fix it on your own. Waiting for a vendor to fix a problem is as much a pain in the ass as the customer screaming about the bug in the first place.

  • Indeed it would be a nice idea, however if I'm not mistaken, these embedded Linux systems won't be open sourced, so tweaking code is out of the question ;)

    The embedded sytems don't have to be open sourced. If I'm selling widgets and there's a design flaw, I don't expect the user to fix it for me. In the same vein, if there's a driver bug or even a core flaw in Linux it's not my customer's problem. It's mine. Having the source and being able to contribute a patch back so that others won't be bitten is a good thing. It's been a while but I don't recall being able to do that with QNX.

  • The majority of your post is complete nonsense. I tried to comment on it but it's like trying to talk electronics to my wife. However your second paragraph I can comment on:

    As far as embedded linux goes, the uses that i've seen for it make me want to use it as often as possible, especially with the linux embedded bios chips that i've read about allowing for faster workstation booting, as well as smoother allocation of resources on linux machines, which all-in-all is something I think all of us would like.

    I've read a lot about the OpenBIOS project and had subscribed to the mailing list for a while before I came to the conclusion that there just is zero need for such a thing. Having a BIOS which can access a network via BOOTP/TFTP is all you need. If you need absolutely instant-on then you're entire OS will be in flash; not just some 32-bit BIOS implementation.

  • First off, you *aren't* fighting for embedded systems. The folks who are currently using proprietary operating systems in embedded systems are. They're going to go there whether you're helping or not.

    What do you get? You get more people using the GNU tools, pushing for more functionality, and getting that stuff pushed back into the kernel. Most embedded developers don't want to fork the kernel or a compiler - they don't want the support headache. So they'll give features back to the community, just like desktop developers do. Hell, look at Cygnus, and now RedHat. They're paying the bills by supporting embedded developers!

    Finally, Linus himself pays the bills by working for Transmeta. Transmeta wants to put their chips into embedded devices, among other things. I'm sure he's happy to see embedded Linuxes take off.

    Seems like it's a win-win situation for everyone.

  • Linux isn't as hackable as you think. The idea behind linux is that it is designed to be a very veratile operating system. Linux is able to be configued for high security, a prime example is secure socket layering with linux machines, along with this, linux is also able to be used as an insecure workstation for advanced users. From a corporate stand point, this actually makes linux look very good, because, when configured properly, linux offers some of the best security around. Yes, linux is inherrently hackable, but look at its roots. Linux has grown because of the group the main stream terms as hackers, though this is often a misnomer, as hacker has the negative connotation that many of us in the linux community try to distance ourselves from. On the other hand, linux's hackability is an advantage, becuase of the fact that with linux, any time new updates are released, they can generally be quickly put into place, often without a reboot of the server, saving time, as well as reliability that so many internet users want.

    As far as embedded linux goes, the uses that i've seen for it make me want to use it as often as possible, especially with the linux embedded bios chips that i've read about allowing for faster workstation booting, as well as smoother allocation of resources on linux machines, which all-in-all is something I think all of us would like.
  • I examined the Ericsson Web Screen at CeBIT and I wasn't all that impressed with it.

    More or less every other single pad on CeBit was equiped with both modem and PCMCIA slotts.

    This one had only a blue-tooth link to a phone-line base-station.

    The sales rep I first spoke to was utterly clueless, when I asked about througput and broadband.
    Almost comical, when I asked her if she couldn't grasp that I already had a highspeed link at home, and wondered if they had a basestation for ethernet access, she responded:
    "Most people doesn't want complicated technology, those customers perfer modems" (!)

    I managed to find a techy in the booth, and after some evasive talk he admited to that the main reason it only uses a phone-modem in the base-station is that the hardware in the webpad, (or as say call it Web Screen) more or less sucks. Not so much the CPU, but the layout of the motherboard had all kinds of rather embarassing shortcommings, so it can't even comunicate at rates over 56kBit.
    Hes reasoning was that this platform is a rather dead-end market gimmick. If it makes any sales, they will develop a new generation with "serious network throughput"
    The trouble I see in this reasoning is that I doubt if the thing will sell much, I think they expect to sell it for something like $1200
    So unfortunately this as most other Ericsson consumer stuff, is propably just another stock-sinker and I'm a bit sceptical about if they will get any generation 2 version out.

    If they do manage, I'd love to have one, it was nice except for the tiny litle bandwith detail ;)
  • Or go for the Open Source embedded OS, eCos [redhat.com]

    -----
    "Goose... Geese... Moose... MOOSE!?!?!"
  • But don't really see what we gain by putting Linux in every toaster everywhere. Why should we fight for free software in embedded systems, where we never even get in touch with the code?

    But you're wrong; We can get in touch with the code just about anywhere. If we're lucky, people will use the uCsimm [uclinux.org], and the hacking possibilities will be endless. It really does seem like the quickest route to embedding linux in your product. Note: I am not affiliated with uClinux, or the people who make the uCsimm, but I this this is really neat.

    Anyway, we've already been hacking boxes which run linux which we were Not Intended To Hack(tm). TiVo, anyone?

    Of course, free software is philosophically more correct than propriatary software, even in embedded systems. But still, what does it give us in return? We can never change the software in our toasters or our stereos, so why should we go out and put Linux in there?

    One day, every device will have a fairly complete operating system in it. Right now, you can get a uCsimm, a complete (somewhat slow) computer on a simm. It's a more powerful system than, say, a palmpilot, and in fact the PalmOS should be portable to it, not that I expect Palm/3Com to bother.

    The uCsimm is driven by a Motorola DragonBall 68EZ328 processor, and comes well equiped with 2 MB of FLASH and 8Mb of DRAM. We have also included a 10Base-T ethernet and RS 232 high-speed serial. There is also a built-in LCD panel driver capable of displaying QVGA at a resolution of 320 x 240.

    And a complete devkit is only $300. No memory protection in uClinux, but hey, life is hard. But one day, a dramatically more powerful system will come in a single-chip solution and cost significantly less. At that point, it's cheaper to put a pre-developed hardware solution into your system than to do a complete design, and your engineering cost drops to nearly nothing; You add a simm socket (or whatever) to your board, hook power up to it, and run input and/or output lines to the appropriate components. Anyone could implement it with a copy of orcad and a few days to learn how that software works; Just place a SIMM socket in your diagram, and start connecting traces and buses. It'll output a HPGL file which you can then send off to the people who will make your PCBs.

    So, since every device will have an OS on it eventually, perhaps we should push for it to be something (easily) hackable, and something which we'd want to hack. Just a thought. Just remember, at some point in the future, even a basic "smart" toaster (right now there are toasters which are supposed to not overtoast your bread, and they're pretty cheap, but they suck) will want to detect bread temperature, turn banks of heating elements on and off in areas to ensure an even toast, and so on. It'll probably want to tie that in with some sort of fuzzy logic system so it knows what sort of heat patterns to toast your particular breads with. And eventually, it'll be cheap enough to drop in a predeveloped embedded system. Wouldn't you like it to be linux?


    --
    ALL YOUR KARMA ARE BELONG TO US

  • I wish I could have seen it.
  • I agree with you. I'm a Win2k user and am actually somewhat happy that the stuff is stable, but I guess it just annoys me to see other companies that used to have good products go down the tubes as they are unable to develop browsers that are capable of displaying what Microsoft makes...
    Linux has its advantages, there are very few and I'm not going to name any right now, however I do agree that some people do need to leave their server rooms and get some fresh air every so often :-)
  • I too write my own code, however I do like to be able to peruse other people's code, plus it's nice to be able to see how you can better interface to a system when looking through the source rather than just going, "Well, gee that blows goats, we can only input data through their Import function."
    Plus, the XML parser for MSIE 5.5 is pretty crappy overall.
  • If everyone thinks that Linux is terrible. . . then basically you're signing your soul to the devil (aka Microsoft). With Microsoft offering it's HailStorm Services, sure it says that it's going to be "Open Source" in a sense as it is being built on XML and SOAP, however for those of you that use MSIE 5.5, you probably have noticed that it doesn't support XML in full. Tragedy indeed strikes this world when we bow down before Microsoft. . .
  • Dude, what's up with that? There's no need for that sort of crap.
  • Ok, the big claim to fame for QNX is that it boots off a floppy. Unfortunately, it only runs on x86 processors. If you knew about the embedded space, you'd know that almost nobody uses x86.
    I haven't heard of chorusOS or nucleus. I've heard of ThreadX, and had a demo of it from green hills, but why bother? It comes to something like $20k for the scheduler, synch mechanisms, and a file i/o layer. My embedded OS of choice: eCos [redhat.com].
    Also, FYI, distributions dont matter in the embedded space. Most embedded devices have limitations on space (or, if they dont, they should for cost reasons), so using a distribution is pointless. Just a kernel and a ramfs with some basic utilities is all you really need. This is how it's done on devices like the empeg.
  • I've been reading about embdedded Linux from time to time, but I've never really understood why we should be so excited about it. No, I'm not a troll, all I am saying is that whlie I understand why people are excited about Linux for PCs, I don't really see how Linux in my washing machine should be that cool. Myself, I run nothing but Linux and BSD on my PC and I am into the free software thinking and all that.

    But don't really see what we gain by putting Linux in every toaster everywhere. Why should we fight for free software in embedded systems, where we never even get in touch with the code?

    Of course, free software is philosophically more correct than propriatary software, even in embedded systems. But still, what does it give us in return? We can never change the software in our toasters or our stereos, so why should we go out and put Linux in there?

    What do we (the free software movement) gain from this? The makers of embedded systems get a lot of good software for free, but does it give us something in return? The software for embedded systems is very closely tied with the hardware, which is proprietary. So any source code they have to publish will be nothing but drivers for their specialized hardware.

    Could somebody please enlighten me!
  • QNX runs on alot of stuff, like SuperH, PPC, ARM and more.
  • ChorusOS is for realy big systems like telephone switching, threadX is just a cheap embedded OS that's not special at all, good for stuff like fancy caller ID or something. Never heard of Nuclues though.
  • you forgot OSE by Enea Systems [enea.com]. Since you forgot a vendor too, either:

    a) You're as ignorant as he is, or:
    b) He's not ignorant.

    My hope is B. That said, the failure of poorly performing embedded Linux companies is just selective market forces in action. Windows resellers are going out of business too, does that mean Windows is doomed? What about the solid embedded Linux vendors [mvista.com] who are making money in this space?

    COUtrollGH COUGH
  • this stuff is nothing. cmdrtaco put linux on a dildo in 1993. basically you suck john maddog hall's filthy bearded cock.




    they mod me down because they want my throbbing manhood.
  • I did however like the gadgets, but taking a look at the last week, with all the Linux related companies going to the dogs, and 4 distributions going "kaput" within less than 6 months time, I would be looking at other alternatives to Linux, especially if my business were going to depend on them.

    What do failing distributions and/or companies have to do with the viability of Linux as an embedded OS?

    -adnans
  • Looking at your towering spelling intellect, not to mention your COWardness, I'm not too worried :-)

    -adnans
  • Uhh, it's called BlueCat.

    Last time I was at a con, I got a 'demo' copy of Bluecat. Their licensing agreement makes it clear that it's a proprietary development environment based on Linux.

    BTW, you have have a 'Closed Source' Linux based OS. All the GPL says is that you have to redistribute source with any changes you make.
  • It seems like there are a couple of camps of embedded developers. Folks who are developing low-volume or higher cost products talk about the big 3 operating systems like there is nothing else out there. For them, there isn't.

    Likewise, folks working in the high-volume, low cost arena scoff at the big names - the cost associated with a license for VxWorks or WinCE would be prohibitive, and the resource usage would be as well (people frequently ship Nucleus and ThreadX systems measured in KILOBYTES of RAM+ROM). A lot of folks wouldn't even recognize that an operating system is running on these devices - but it's there, even if it's just pared down to a kernel for inter-thread communication (becuase the overhead for PROCESSES is just too high!).

    I guess the trick to interpreting statements like "the big 3" is to understand that the "embedded" space is big, and that folks who work in a fixed area of the space tend to have a pretty myopic view of options in operating systems, since they're only focusing on the tools that are appropriate to the job at hand.

  • I find it interesting that much of this talk about embedded devices fails to mention i/o devices. Some may say that an i/o device's software should be written bare metal with little os at all. While this can be a great option for performance reasons, it requires a very talented staff and a lot of time. This may not be an option, especially for a first generation product from a young company. As the I/O workload is pushed away from the main CPU to add on cards, I/O devices become more complex. The choice of an embedded operating system becomes more and more important as developers look at the laundry list of features and performance requirements. Fibre Channel cards and NICs keep moving faster and faster. PCI 64-bit 66 Mhz will be yielding to PCI-X and double data rate PCI-X. InfiniBand 4x and 12X links will not only push data faster but create many new configuration and manageability issues for i/o devices. All these things make creating high quality i/o device very difficult. A report on what embedded OS's work best for things like Gigabit NICs, Fibre Channel RAID, Network Attached Storage, etc. would be very interesting. Why don't we see more of this? I guess it's no fun to report on something that doesn't have a pretty screen with a web browser on it.
  • Unless one rewrote the kernel from scratch, without using a single line of GPL'ed code, wouldn't it be illegal to have a closed source embedded Linux? And if it is rewritten from scratch, without a single line from Linus' kernel, then it's not Linux, is it?

    The only "intuitive" interface is the nipple. After that, it's all learned.
  • As with all these wireless PDA's and phones, they do us no good unless they can talk to eachother. I realy hope that bluetooth will kick off. I would realy hate to see someone like MS or Intel fuck it all up by introducing it's own standard and delaying technology another 3 years. If my PDA can't download the addressbook from my laptop then get my phone to dial the number then I still think it's behind. As the technology advances we should all advance the "global wireless infrastucture".
  • by fjordboy (169716)
    Would you really want the award for "geekiest demo?" I dunno if I would....

  • I just thought a view people might want to read a review [phinixi.com] from a *gasp* non-linux point of view
  • Huh? I can say: the big three of server operating systems are Solaris, Linux and NT.

    You should put your money where your mouth is, and show some supportive proof of these big three. e.g., Yahoo, Apache, Sony's Japan website, formerly Hotmail use FreeBSD, IBM, NYSE, American Express use AIX.

    Your post is pointless since thread does not discuss what will be run on the server(s). e.g. If your core webdesigners (programmers included) are extremely comptent with Oracle, Story Server (for Yahoo like pages) your not gonna run your site on NT unless your a dumbass and like headaches.

    Aside from that there are many instances of Windows underperforming as a server which sometimes can't cut it, so the mere mention of them is painful

    If you look at units shipped, QNX isn't even on the map. They've just started some bizzare marketing blitzes lately (starting with the whole Amiga switcheroo), so wannabes like yourself who know nothing about the embedded market know about QNX.

    You should do some research before posting... QNX is used for stuff Windows is likely not competent/reliable/trustworthy(crashmasterWindows) to do. Hell even IBM [qnx.com] jumped into the QNX mix. You should read about the uses companies like NASA [qnx.com] and Motorola [motorola.com]have for QNX instead of thinking about only running a web and mail server. (theres more to an OS than that you know)

  • What do failing distributions and/or companies have to do with the viability of Linux as an embedded OS?

    Snowball effects. Think about the following scenario, Linux altogether dropping as a whole (could happen, did happen under the NeXT project) and others.

    Well reading some of the threads on Embedded Linux, you would know its not going to be an Open Sourced OS as typical Linux is, which means, as a developer, you don't have the luxury of modifications of anything. Which may not be so bad...

    Pay for play Linux? Why would I want to pay for for an embedded OS when I could use others that are semi-standards in the industry of embedded OS' (QNX, which Motorola uses, NASA, etc.)

    What make this the safe bet when under standard Linux, cmopanies are going bonkers, whats to say an embedded Linux won't go under as well?

  • You just put it in things you *REALLY* want to work.

    Indeed it would be a nice idea, however if I'm not mistaken, these embedded Linux systems won't be open sourced, so tweaking code is out of the question ;)

    Again, maybe I underposted before or something who knows (lack of caffeine), these embedded Linux OS', from my perspective, are not your typical download-for-free-to-play-with-geek-friendly Linux distributions, so to sort of post it here as if, the average /.'er would have access to tinker with them is sort of placing candy in the eyes of a dieter or something similar.

  • I don't expect the user to fix it for me. In the same vein, if there's a driver bug or even a core flaw in Linux it's not my customer's problem. It's mine. Having the source and being able to contribute a patch back so that others won't be bitten is a good thing. It's been a while but I don't recall being able to do that with QNX.

    Agreed, but then there lies the question of actually knowing what your internals are like, and as with an OpenSource based system versus closed source binaries, you have that flexibility to fix, change things on your own.

    Thats a benefit for using an Open Source OS. Whats more is, you won't have to wait for fixes to be assessed, and patches released, with a good administrative handling of the servers in question, things could be done on your/their own.

    Also beneficial to using an Open Source OS as opposed to binary based, is you have the flexibility to audit the codes for maximum reliability, e.g. you can tweak it to your needs to make it faster, more secure, etc.

  • that enables the inclusion of gnome-core inside the linux kernel (expected for 2.6) you have a RTOS with a very small memory footpring. Now talk about bloated!

    Now your asking a Linux vendor to take away from giving options to use something other than Gnome. Why not QT? Thats an argument for the masses. But the thought of just using a de facto standard under Linux would be taking away the fun from it all.

    But I should also note as in my other post, these aren't the typical "freebie-hobbyist" variants of Linux. Which also makes me point out, why should someone choose to go with embedded Linux over typical Linux, when in harsh reality, not everyone needs an embedded system. Sure its tech-chick, but lets get realistic these are not you (father's oldsmobile ;)) typical desktop OS', web based servers.

  • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Saturday April 21, 2001 @02:56PM (#274942)
    I submitted this to slashdot, but alas, was rejected.

    so here I submit it as a followup:

    Terapin 'mine' [mineterapin.com]

    it does mp3, usb, ethernet, pcmcia, audio in/out, 16x4 lcd display, video out and 10GB hard drive.

    I'll certainly be watching for this one!

    --

  • by deran9ed (300694) on Saturday April 21, 2001 @03:05PM (#274943) Homepage
    #incldue <facts.h>
    #include <rants.h>
    #incldue <clues.h>

    Just to be absolutely clear about what I'm saying, in my opinion the "big three" embedded OSes are, at the moment: (1) VxWorks, (2) Embedded Linux, (3) Embedded Windows -- or (1) VxWorks, (2) Embedded Windows, (3) Embedded Linux -- depending on how you count.

    I guess he's never heard of/used QNX [qnx.com], ChorusOS [sun.com] Nucleus [accelerate...nology.com], or ThreadX [ghs.com]. I did however like the gadgets, but taking a look at the last week, with all the Linux related companies going to the dogs [fuckedcompany.com], and 4 distributions going "kaput" within less than 6 months time, I would be looking at other alternatives to Linux, especially if my business were going to depend on them.

    © Gbonics [antioffline.com] changing the futurismisms of vocabularities worldomwide

  • by sllort (442574) on Saturday April 21, 2001 @02:41PM (#274944) Homepage Journal
    Interesting link to Kevin Dankward's rant [linuxdevices.com] on the fragmentation of embedded linux. It is a response to the "Embedded Linux Consortium"'s proposed standard, which he claims:

    "As stated, the ELC proposal will allow closed source alternatives to be certified. An OS with runtime royalties can be certified; an unreliable and unrobust alternative can be certified; an OS with poor networking can be certified; an OS with few drivers and tools can be certified; an OS with a small number of trained programmers can be certified."

    That's the first time I've seen anyone in the mainstream mention a certified, closed source version of Linux. There is certainly a very strong push between a few vendors to become the "industry standard for embedded linux"... but closed source?

    yuck. how could any linux company be that stupid?

    Hopefully he's just being alarmist.

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