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Android Operating Systems Linux

Embedded Developers Prefer Linux, Love Android 104

Posted by Soulskill
from the what-users-don't-know-can't-make-them-whine dept.
DeviceGuru writes "In a recent EE Times 2013 Embedded Market study, Android was the OS of choice for future embedded projects among 16 percent of the survey's participants, second only to 'in-house/custom' (at 28 percent). But if a spectrum of disparate approaches can be lumped together as a single option, why not aggregate the various shades of Linux to see how they compare? Parsing the EE Times data that way makes it abundantly clear that Linux truly dominates the embedded market."
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Embedded Developers Prefer Linux, Love Android

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  • by livingboy (444688) on Sunday March 03, 2013 @05:22AM (#43059771)

    If you look original EE Times link and read the article, you will see that the love for Android is dropping:

    However, despite pulling ahead of FreeRTOS and Ubuntu Linux, the news is not all good for Android in embedded applications. Whereas a year before 34 percent of users thought they would be using Android during the following 12 months that percentage dropped to 28 percent in the latest survey.

    After all, used OS is mostly hardware dependent, is it a low end or high end embedded platform.

    Low end you do in the house, middle range applications you use some RTOS, in the high end you use those Linuxes and Android.

    Disclaimer: I am currently evaluating OS that did leap from 0 to 4% in its first year of use.

    • by bfandreas (603438) on Sunday March 03, 2013 @06:09AM (#43059915)
      Android is very unpredictable during runtime.

      This of course is purely anecdotal and based on my consumer grade experiences. But given how eagerly Dalvik disposes of anything connected to a process that'S not in the foreground I wouldn't consider using it to do anything important. As an abstraction layer for vastly different hardware running the same crap it works quite nicely. But you shouldn't attach hydraulics, engines, valves or anything else important to it.

      Also let's not forget how long it took to get Linux anywhere near equipment that needs an RT OS. And it possibly still isn't the first choice in such environments. I've been out of that loop for a long time and have been known to be wrong. So this is no engineering advice.
      • I imagine they just want Android for UI design, internet and non RT peripheral interfacing ... mostly the same reasons for wanting Linux.

        No need to handle things monolithically, you can always run a more predictable RTOS alongside.

      • Your anecdotal consumer grade experiences are spot on, perhaps we are witnessing another example of marketing win over engineering. Berkeley GEOS and IBM OS/2 vs MS Windows spring to mind also.
        • by jrumney (197329) on Sunday March 03, 2013 @09:22AM (#43060665) Homepage

          Your anecdotal consumer grade experiences are spot on, perhaps we are witnessing another example of marketing win over engineering.

          Engineering's job is to make what marketing want work, not argue about whether the market wants the right thing. Underneath Android is still Linux, anything that needs to avoid garbage collection can easily run outside of the dalvik VM.

          • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Sunday March 03, 2013 @01:29PM (#43062157)

            "Engineering's job is to make what marketing want work, not argue about whether the market wants the right thing."

            Complete nonsense. Granted, that's how some companies are run, but generally it is not a very successful formula.

            If you want your company to be successful, it is the job of Engineering to tell Marketing what works well and what doesn't. Marketing may want something specific, but if it doesn't work well, it won't sell well either.

            Apple is a good example. Engineering drives marketing as much as the other way around.

            • by Anonymous Coward

              What do you mean?

              All I see is that often the engineering types have no idea what the market wants. When marketing comes and says the market want product X, it's not the job of engineering to say product Y is superior, and instruct marketing to force it on the market.

              Of course, if in fact product X is infeasible due to engineering problems, then that's another problem.

              • by sjames (1099)

                Perhaps clearer. Marketing tells engineering what the market wants. In a good organization, engineering then tells marketing what they can do to satisfy that and marketing gets to work teaching the market why that is the best solution to what they want.

                In a bad organization, marketing tells engineering what to do to satisfy the market and when engineering says that can't actually be done, marketing demands it anyway.

                In a terrible organization, marketing decides what they want the market to want, tells engin

          • by n7ytd (230708)

            Underneath Android is still Linux, anything that needs to avoid garbage collection can easily run outside of the dalvik VM.

            Then it's up to the whims of the overcommit memory killer in Linux. I'm not sure if turning that off will cause fits in Android...

          • by jc42 (318812)

            Engineering's job is to make what marketing want work, not argue about whether the market wants the right thing.

            Yeah; that's a common attitude. More often, the job is to take what management has ordered, because they think that's what the customers want, and find some way to implement it to meet the management requirements.

            For example, years ago when MS-DOS was still widely used and MS-Windows was new, I was involved on an "embedded" project that was "required" to run on MS-DOS. I had a critical part of the task, making the startup code work (and also the shutdown that got a DOS prompt back on the screen). Wha

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 03, 2013 @07:12AM (#43060149)

        People are mixing up two different concepts: embedded != realtime.
        Of course no one confronted with critical realtime requirements will choose Android java application as a solution.

      • by knarf (34928)

        You would not use Android to directly control the hardware, that is handled by native code running on Linux. Android does make it possible to create good-looking user interfaces with minimum effort and - like you said - good portability. Since Android runs on top of Linux you can have both at the same time.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <{ten.3dlrow} {ta} {ojom}> on Sunday March 03, 2013 @07:38AM (#43060255) Homepage

        When they say "embedded" they probably don't mean headless boxes as you appear to be thinking of. At work we recently developed such a device, a tablet PC running Windows Embedded Compact 7 with one auto-starting app.

        We looked at Android. You can either disable the home button in software or just omit it from the hardware so that your app is always in the foreground. Not that you would necessarily want to; eventually we would write a custom launcher that could start other apps we provided.

        Windows Embedded Compact 7 is a turd. Parts of it just don't work. We raised a support ticket with Microsoft because Portuguese language settings didn't work and their response was "it's broken, we know about it and there is no business case to fix it, and BTW a bunch of other random languages don't work either". We were planning to use Silverlight to do our UI but performance was terrible, seemingly not using hardware acceleration at all (despite OpenGL ES working perfectly well). When you start playing stereo sound the left and right channels are sometimes randomly swapped. The whole thing is a giant cluster-fuck.

        • by Billlagr (931034)
          Just curious - what eventually swayed your decision to go the Windows path?
          • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

            The company that provided the ARM CPU module recommended it and said it was "fully supported". They lied.

            Additionally they were only offering Android 2.2 at the time, which lacked USB host support, but it would have been worth porting 4.0. As it is we had to write our own GUI framework anyway because Silverlight was fucked.

            • by Billlagr (931034)
              Ah the old 'its fully supported and works great!' cry. Having been on the receiving end of that one as well, I sympathise. Thanks
        • by musmax (1029830)
          Why anyone, today, would chose Windows for "embedded" products, is completely beyond me. WTAF ? I would really like to see and try to understand the decision tree that lead to this outcome. If only to guard agains it in my own organisation.
      • I would think the hardware response time would dwarf the software response time by at least an order of magnitude, i.e. it takes a solenoid to be activated longer than for the operating system to make the request that the solenoid be activated. At the speeds at which vehicles move I don't see how a software response time in the millisecond range could possibly be considered bad. Maybe I just need to see some examples to understand the issues better.
        • by EETech1 (1179269) on Sunday March 03, 2013 @12:47PM (#43061785)

          Lets say that your valve is from a 1987 Ford and it is for idle speed control. those valves run at 10 Hz so your best case 1 Msec response time will give you 1% increments from 0% - 100%. If you had a requirement to have better than 1% resolution, you couldn't get it. If your response time varied by 1 Msec as well, you couldn't hold better than 3% on the valve position giving your engine a roughly + - 2% window on the the idle speed. This in itself would be an objectionable level of idle stability on the slowest valve ever used for idle speed control.

          But you might have a hardware PWM to help you gain accurate control of the valve by just loading a value to a register and calling it a day because the hardware timer will take care of giving you an accurate frequency and duty cycle, what could go wrong then?

          The same issue would still manifest itself perhaps even to a greater extent because the PID calculations that you would be using for the speed control loop on your idle speed need to be taken at very exact intervals to get a good cause and effect relationship out of those calculations. At a 600 RPM idle on your 5.0L V-8 you will have 40 combustion events per second, and the PID would likely be calculated at the most every 50 mSec to get any kind of stability out of it. If your scheduling and task swapping caused that calculation time to vary + - 1 mSec that would also create a ~4% error in the PID output because it might have really measured the change over 49 - 51 mSec and now you not only have an invisible (to the software) amount of jitter to deal with you run the real risk of having 1 or 2 or 3 of the 25 mSec combustion events being used in your current idle speed calculation. If you got unlucky and just missed the 2nd combustion event in your calculation, you only have half of the "power in" you expected when you calculate what effect your valve position is having on your engine speed, your PID may say "hey, we need the valve open more!" so that calculation will drive the valve too far open. The next time the PID calculates it is likely to see the effects of 3 combustion events which will be driven by a valve that is now too far open and overcompensate again by closing the valve too much. The resulting engine speed will become very unstable.

          You can see where you might want to be able to run that calculation faster say on a 10 mSec schedule. Now your 1 mSec jitter will result in a 20% variability in the time used in the PID calculation sometimes, so while you can run the calculation more often, and filter the output to the valve to keep your PID loop from essentially aliasing your combustion events, your increased time variance will somewhat negate any gains you had from running the calculation 5X faster increasing your CPU load (which will increase your 1 mSec response time jitter) and might make your system even harder to tune for a smooth idle.

          Another Example:

          If you were trying to monitor a 1 khz frequency by accumulating the pulses in a hardware counter and and were reading the result every 100 mSec, and you had 1 mSec jitter on the time you read your 1 mSec pulses. You would have a sample period of 99 - 101 mSec, this would automatically limit you to 10 hz resolution on your pulses (99 to 101 of them * 10) so your measured speed would best case read out 990 - 1010 hz and your control system would have to live with never knowing if it was really at 990 hz and read the frequency too soon, or it was at 1010 hz and read it a little too late. It would severely limit the control you would have on the process that was generating the pulses.

          Hope this helps!

          • by sjames (1099)

            Of course, you can use a 1HZ signal to latch your frequency counter into a register for the software to read if you can't get the scheduling jitter down.

            It's all a trade-off. If you can get the software's jitter small enough, you save on hardware.

            • by EETech1 (1179269)

              That is one of the nice features of the Atmel XMega parts as well as FPGA, IE being able to have a value automagically transferred from one piece of hardware to RAM based on a hardware trigger from another interrupt source without having to service the interrupt generated from your hardware as soon as possible to move the value yourself.

              For lots of other parts you have to rely on a fast context switch to your ISR and at least put that value somewhere where it won't get changed by the continuous stream of pu

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Android is too much embedded linux for anything headless.

        For anything with a display, however, it's just fine. And you can control a lesser microcontroller with it to get your realtime hardware interface. There's tons of things many don't think of as embedded OS which aren't even realtime, like automotive interfaces as the sibling comment says, or slot machines, or in-store coupon dispensers with attract displays. A lot of these sorts of things have traditionally run wince because it was pretty much the onl

      • "But given how eagerly Dalvik disposes of anything connected to a process that'S not in the foreground I wouldn't consider using it to do anything important."

        Dalvik has specifications and documented behavior and Dalvik follows that behavior pretty well. You do not see Dalvik disposing of anything connected with a process that is state that it supposed to save. Some state is ephemeral and documentation states it is ephemeral. I have yet to see an object held by a running Service to be arbitrarily destroye

        • by bfandreas (603438)
          I am fully aware of this and I understand the reasons for it. Not only was it a sound decision from an engineering point of view, it also hammered the need for state saving into the heads of developers. But I'm not altogether sure if the reasoning behind getting rid of stuff asap hasn't already been eliminated.

          But for a(most likely) headless embedded system with a very specific task this is something I would not want. OTOH if you only use it for non-essential UI stuff like the display of a washing machine
  • Silly angle (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Gaygirlie (1657131) <> on Sunday March 03, 2013 @05:32AM (#43059795) Homepage

    A kernel all by its lonesome self doesn't really do all that much, it needs userland to become a useable OS. For example, Linux-kernel by itself would just be a Linux-kernel, nothing more, but slap uClibc and Busybox on top of it and you've suddenly got yourself a bare-bones OS. However, as the Linux-kernel is so utterly modifiable and flexible the userland can be almost anything and there is nothing about the kernel itself that somehow mandates that the userlands be in any way or form compatible with or even so much as resemble one another! So, if we are just going to slap together all the different forms of operating systems with absolutely no regard for the userland simply because their kernels are based on a similar source we should do the same for the other kernels, too, in order to be fair: slap OSX and iOS together with all the BSDs, all the Windows NT - based kernels together and so on, and then compare the numbers.

    Linux, the kernel, would likely still come on top and we could all rejoice and sing Kumbaya, but... well, what would you gain at that point? What does such masturbation to the types of kernels actually give us? It says nothing about the operating systems, it says nothing about finer details like e.g. if the kernels are even compatible with one another due to modifications or anything, it's just simply a way of masturbating to the numbers.

    • by Tanuki64 (989726)

      100% correct what you say. Nevertheless, masturbating is necessary from time to time. Far too often important technical decisions are made by business people without a clue. Presenting them with some nice power point presentations and impressing numbers might help. Linux on top? Then it must be good. One million flies cannot err. So we might get directly or indirectly another supporter of Linux.

    • So, if we are just going to slap together all the different forms of operating systems with absolutely no regard for the userland simply because their kernels are based on a similar source we should do the same for the other kernels, too, in order to be fair: slap OSX and iOS together with all the BSDs, all the Windows NT - based kernels together and so on, and then compare the numbers.

      Given that Linux got already 50% this way, even if all others, including the homegrown, would use the same non-Linux kernel

    • by sjames (1099)

      As long as there is significant demand for small devices that run a Linux kernel, MS can't get the HW vendors to totally lock things down. It also makes a good argument for Free Software as Linux drives proprietary out of yet another market.

      On the creative hacking side, it presents a possibility to drop uClibc and busybox on your device and have fun.

  • News at eleven (Score:4, Informative)

    by ls671 (1122017) on Sunday March 03, 2013 @05:53AM (#43059863) Homepage

    News at eleven...

    Linux has been dominating the embedded market device for at least 10 years.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      That's not strictly true. Although my speciality isn't embedded systems, I went to an embedded systems conference back in 2000 and Linux very definitely was not dominating the market. Fears over the GPL were holding a lot of people back, especially those with custom hardware. VxWorks, LynxOS and QNX seemed to be the big boys, Linux was an interesting novelty, Windows was something to laugh and point at. How times have changed.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by ls671 (1122017)

        In 2000, F5 networks and vmware were already running linux as many others were.

        It is just not that well known, they kind of not advertise it that much...

      • Windows was something to laugh and point at. How times have changed.

        Admittedly taking these two sentences out of context, this might show how some things just haven't changed. ;-)

      • I went to an embedded systems conference back in 2000

        Note that in the last ten years, there was no year 2000.

      • by EETech1 (1179269)

        If it was THE embedded systems conference (ESC), in the early 00's it was sponsored largely by QNX, VxWorks and Mentor Graphics (Nucleus RTOS) they even provided your folders for the event at that time, and sponsored many of the classes they had. I remember attending (still have the handouts in the binders) many talks that mentioned Linux, used it for part of the demos, and either made note of it's increasing functionality and popularity, or gave hints that Linux based products were being developed by near

      • My speciality is embedded systems and I can attest to Linux being a dominate force for the past decade. Mainly due to a lot of work requirements being downgraded to soft real-time instead of the default hard real-time. QNX, VxWorks, and Phar Lap ETS still are preferred for projects with hard real-time requirements (Phar Lap ETS has fallen out of favor in our shop).

        While Linux is growing in dominance it is not the only rising star. Projects like L4/fiasco looks promising and being deployed in projects (thou

        •'s dominANT, like "is dominant in BDSM scenes" rather than "will dominate the penis-length competition" or "that bitch is totally dominating his ass."

    • by scorp1us (235526)

      Dominating? No. It wasn't until 2.5/6 that Linux got to be embedded friendly. 2.4 was starting to make inroads but you needed the MontaVista kernel with the SMP spinlock pre-emption points to get good regular behavior (2001). Before that it was way too unpredictable to ever be used in any "embedded" device. Since 2.6 things have gotten a lot better and the interests of the embedded market have always been taken into account.

      But not dominating. VXWorks was and still is dominant. Around 2.6 era (2005), you co

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      Linux is maybe bigger on the high end, but it's not big overall if you count embedded devices that range from using 64-bit power hungry chips all the way down to 8-bit micros. Linux essentially is big and bulky, relatively speaking. It's nice when you can afford the extra memory or CPU cycles as you get a lot of flexibility and free pre-built components, and Linux&BSD have far better network stacks than any commercial RTOS offerings I've seen. But a full Unix kernel is a drawback if you're on a slow

  • unless you are into projects that don't require much of an operating system (such as assembly on AVR etc, probably the 28% custom/in-house figure), how many options are there apart from linux?

    • TFA has a list of commonly used ones besides from Linux.

    • by loufoque (1400831)

      NetBSD, FreeBSD...

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Off the top of my head there's qnx and vxworks, but there are scads of small embedded operating systems, realtime and not, some of which are basically paired with a specific architecture and some which aren't, etc. There's no shortage of options.

    • (substitute the greek letter for the word micro)

      You may want to google "microC/OS". It is a simple library that you can add to your program. MicroC/OS-II was free for use if you purchase the book "microC/OS The Real-Time Kernel". I think it has since gone commercial at Micrium [].

    • by crutchy (1949900)

      wow there are quite a few options... thanks guys

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Especially since only Linux offers a proper setup for Android development. It's like saying "iOS developers love OS X" just because 100% of them do their iOS development on OS X - as the tools are only available for OS X. They may very well love OS X (really, who doesn't?), but that's not the sole reason behind the number.

    • Especially since only Linux offers a proper setup for Android development.

      I don't understand your point. Android runs on top of the Linux kernel and if you go the native app route then you will be making Linux system calls. Unlike iOS, you can develop for Android using Windows and OS X too.

  • The takehome from TFA for me was that Inhouse/Custom, Android, Ubuntu, FreeRTOS and Windows Embedded 7 are all gaining marketshare year over year with everyone else either holding steady or losing ground. They also happen to be the top 5 OS in the survey. The biggest gainer in what appears to be a consolidating market was Android.

  • by ultranerdz (1718606) on Sunday March 03, 2013 @09:52AM (#43060811)

    So many misconceptions here.

    1st we can assume Android uses the kernel Linux, so android "includes" Linux.

    2nd, there are many types (levels) of embedded systems. Some don't need CPU (nor software). Some require a simple microcontroller, and some require true connectivity, true multitasking, lots of RAM, and maybe an MMU. Some of these systems run OS, and some of there are Linux. Lets call those "high level" -- happen to be the ones we interact on a daily basis (like a Smartphone for example).

    Said that, the great vast majority of embedded systems are not "high level", and we normally don't even "use" them directly, so they don't run Linux (nor Android).

    What is true is that in general, people that need to program in high level, prefer to code in Linux (or even Android) than to code in Windows CE, bare metal, or any other Embedded OS (or RTOS out there).

    But still, it will take "long time" to Linux really dominate the embedded market.

    • You've confused me with the following (not disputing just need clarification):

      Some don't need CPU (nor software). Some require a simple microcontroller, and some require true connectivity, true multitasking, lots of RAM, and maybe an MMU.

      A CPU can be a traditional ASIC, RISC, microcontroller, or FPGA based. An majority of embedded applications can not take advantage of lots of RAM or have a MMU.

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        Often you're stuck with a CPU that you don't want either, due to cost-per-unit pressures. So you can't run Linux even if you wanted to. Ie, ARM7TDMI is very popular since it's very simple but has no MMU.

  • 50% is domination? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kjella (173770) on Sunday March 03, 2013 @10:13AM (#43060923) Homepage

    Now this [] is domination. And this [] is starting to look like domination. Looks like embedded still has a way to go, though Linux overall looks healthier than ever.

    • Well according to the title having only 16% people like Android was enough to declare that embedded developers love Android. So consider the editor/submitter.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm an embedded developer, professionally with experience down at bare metal (with my own scheduler), VXWorks, QNX, Linux and NetBSD. In my opinion, NetBSD was by far the best embedded OS to work with. In places I've worked, the main reason for choosing Linux over NetBSD is "Linux will look good on my Resume... No one knows what NetBSD is." ... I counter that they already have Linux experience, so having more keywords on their resume is better than appearing to only have experience with one OS.

    • Would you say that you would cost more or less to hire than an equally knowledgeable Linux developer for consulting services?

  • I've worked on / built a lot of different embedded systems both hardware and software and I've been left with this question many different times. Linux is great where you need a high level of control, and a great standard posix level interface and If you need to control timers, interfaces, resource tables and more. Custom implementations are great when you need to manage less resources but can handle the overhead of writing a custom RTOS from scratch. Android is great where you want another option apart
    • by gatkinso (15975)

      >> handle the overhead of writing a custom RTOS from scratch.

      Surely you are not referring to Linux. RTAI, Xenomai, RT_PREEMPT. Not to mention the nonfree offerings.

  • Android maybe if all you look at is consumer do-hickies, but in reality there are billions of embedded systems you never see that perform flawlessly 24/7 for decades which use no OS at all

  • OS? I don't need no stinking OS.

    Google "Forth" []

  • Old man noises: embedded development hardly feels like it any more. When you can say "oh, let's do one side with Cherokee so the configurator can set up the device and it can talk to the C polling stuff on the other side via shared memory" it's almost too good to be true.
  • But when I do, I prefer to use Linux.

    I did not mean to quote the most interesting man in the world, but it I like the way that reads.

  • NetBSD is not famous, but it definitively deserves a look for an embedded OS.

    First, it supports major CPU used in the embedded field: ARM, SH3, SH5, PowerPC. So does Linux, but NetBSD has the nice ability to be cross-buildable from any POSIX/ANSI C platform. You can build your NetBSD embedded system from Linux, MacOS X, and even Windows + cygwin

    Then there are the architecture and bus independant drivers. NetBSD uses the same driver for a given chip, whatever the CPU is, or whatever the bus the chip is hooke

  • by Errol backfiring (1280012) on Monday March 04, 2013 @05:08AM (#43065849) Journal

    'Statistics are like a drunk with a lamppost, used more for support than illumination.'
    -- Sir Winston Churchil

    "There's Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics."

    If you tweak statistics enough, you will always find what you are looking for. Especially if your sought answer has nothing to do with the questions that were asked. Or would you really ban sober driving if 25% of the traffic accidents are due to alcohol use?

A language that doesn't affect the way you think about programming is not worth knowing.