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. Embedded Linux to play significant role

Linux may live up to the Java dream


"Sun's solution is to throw away the performance, rewrite the application and give [Sun] a royalty."

by Curtis Lee Fulton

August 13, 1999, LinuxWorld Expo, San Jose, CA--  In interviews throughout the week, many Linux industry leaders claimed that embedded Linux systems will play a significant role in the expanding embedded systems market.

"There's a tremendous amount of interest in Linux from the appliance, network computer, thin client standpoint," Larry Augustin, CEO of VA Linux said in an interview on Monday.  

Augustin said that if the Embedded systems market grows, "lots of boxes in people's homes [will be] running Linux and naturally people are going to want to write applications for those boxes. Even if they were sold as an Internet appliance pretty soon someone is going to come up with a game for them or something else."

Embedded systems are simple devices that have a limited amount of functions, have low power consumption, are often RISC powered and are manufactured at a low cost.  Embedded systems still need an operating system, and those that use Linux have the potential to be produced cheaper because of the Open Source nature of Linux.

Later on Monday, Motorola Computing Group (MCG) held a press conference and announced it was teaming up with Caldera and Lineo to produce embedded Linux systems. "Linux is ready for embedded design-ins and deployments in the markets MCG serves, including telecommunications, medical imaging and industrial automation," said Wayne Sennett, MCG corporate vice president. Sennett said that Motorola was planning on expanding "the reach of Linux into embedded and high availability markets that require rugged, reliable and scalable products."

In an interview Tuesday, Caldera's CEO Ransom Love said his company believes that there "is a major shift taking place as the industry moves toward more and more personalization of the devices and the information."

"The PC's being broken up into palm pilots, set tops and NC devices," continued Love.  "The server's are being broken up into network appliances, database severs, gateway servers and web servers. [These applications] are all being broken up into logical devices. Linux is going to play a dominant role there."

Michael Tiemann, the founder of Cygnus spoke about embedded Linux in an interview on Tuesday. Cygnus takes the GNU C Compiler (GCC) and ports it to new hardware. Because the GCC is free and open sourced, neither Cygnus nor their clients are concerned with royalties. Cygnus has ported GCC (and therefore Linux) to over 150 different architectures.

Tiemann explained the process, saying that the best way to conceptualize what source code is, is to think of it as a recipe. "You need to have a translator that will basically make any program run on any system. And another thing you need is an OS that will act manage the resources of the device. GCC is the cook that interprets the recipe and the OS is the stove."

"The embedded system market is sort of this really big secret that people are just begin to come aware of," said Tiemann. "More and more devices that we use today are gaining more and more computing power.

"Twenty years ago," continued Tiemann, "the only thing computers [in a car] might have been used for was to time the fuel injection. Now they're not only managing the engine power, they're managing the traction control, the ride stability, the GPS system and the climate control."

When asked about Java, Tieman blasted Sun, saying "Sun's solution is to throw away the performance, rewrite the application and give [Sun] a royalty."

"This is what Sun did," Tiemann continued, "they said 'we don't believe in Open Source. We don't believe that the software market will accept the idea of making their source code available to the world. So we are going to build an intermediate language that is not very fast on the computer but is general enough to represent all these different applications. Throw away all your applications, rewrite them in Java, an we will execute them at one tenth their speed on any platform that we support.'"

Tiemann said that with Linux and Cygnus's GCC ports, software firms can leave the programs in the native source of "C and C++ and Java and other languages. . . [Then] compile them to the direct instructions that the machine executes, which means they will be running in full speed."

In an interview on Wednesday Greg Galanos, the founder of Metrowerks, said that with the "advent of the Internet and the web and the advent of very powerful RISC processors in the consumer electronic space, you're seeing some very power architecture hitting the market now but in the non-desktop space."

Galanos claimed that with the rise of the Internet, applications will "move off the desktop" because "all of a sudden the APIs that people use to plug into the infrastructure are essentially TCP/IP and the web." Because HTTP and TCP/IP are universal and open protocols, applications are controlled with a "homogenous interface across a heterogeneous infrastructure." In this inevitable environment, said Galanos, "the code that is going to move the fastest across all these devices is a code-base that is Open Sourced."

Galanos also said that the economics of the embedded device market demand a free operating system. "The value proposition around Linux, which is that you pay for support but you pay no runtime royalties of any kind, really maps well to the consumer electronic business." Because the manufacturing costs of consumer electronic devices continue to drop but the power of these devices continue to rise, "there's no space for runtime royalties. Consumer manufacturers will not pay the royalty, especially for very high volume devices."

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