Embedded Linux at LinuxWorld—What a Difference a Year Makes!

One short year ago, “embedded Linux” barely existed, from a commercial perspective.

One short year ago, “embedded Linux” barely existed, from a commercial perspective. August's 150,000-square-foot LinuxWorld conference (San Jose, California) clearly demonstrated how far embedded Linux has come in just a dozen months. Better than one in ten of the more than 160 exhibitors rolled out new products and services aimed at embedded Linux developers and applications. In case you missed the show, here's a brief summary about each of the exhibitors who highlighted embedded Linux in one way or another.

Adomo previewed an easily expandable, easily administered Linux-based home information system that offers fast access to information along with the ability to communicate easily. The system consists of a Linux-based home server and a network of thin terminal devices that provide access to information, Internet-based services, and group oriented applications. (http://www.adomo.com/)

Agenda Computing previewed the Agenda VR3, a new Linux-based handheld PC that will be introduced to the market this fall at a base price of $149 (US). The device, which is based on an NEC VR4181 system-on-chip processor, features an open source operating system and will be supported by a web-based open application development community. (http://www.agendacomputing.com/)

Applied Data Systems showed a number of single-board computers (SBCs) that are oriented towards solving the embedded display challenges of companies developing a wide range of embedded system products. Demos included a new Linux-based on-board interactive computer system being installed on golf carts; ViewML, Century Software's new embedded Linux browser, running on the 4'' x 6'' ADS Graphics Client StrongARM based single-board computer (SBC); and a “sneak preview” of ADS' new 3'' x 4'' “Bitsy”, StrongARM-based SBC, running Linux of course. (http://www.flatpanels.com/)

Computer I/O unveiled a unique embedded software and services “middleware solution” for the communications industry. The software enables Microsoft Windows clients to communicate transparently with Linux-based embedded data acquisition servers, without concern for operating system, network compatibility, or protocols. (http://www.computerio.com/)

Emperor Systems Software showed several examples of Internet appliance applications running on top of their embedded Linux and JAVA software technologies, including: “TV-Linux”, a TV set-top box solution; and “Studio-Linux”, a broadband server solution for interactive television. (http://www.tvlinux.com/)

IBM showed a wide range of Linux-based systems, from massive million-dollar systems, to the incredibly tiny embedded Linux wristwatch. IBM also demonstrated some new Linux-based Thin Client systems, and also announced availability of its VisualAge Micro Edition Java Virtual Machine for embedded Linux systems. (http://www.ibm.com/linux/)

Indrema promoted its upcoming embedded Linux-based TV set-top gaming console and game software developer network. The company issued a press release announcing the launch of its collaborative open game development initiative, and also announced two key strategic relationships, one with Red Hat (“Red Hat and Indrema Establish Linux Distribution for Console Video Gaming and Home Entertainment”) and the other, with Linuxcare (“Linuxcare and Indrema Team to Provide Embedded Linux Support for Video Game Market”). (http://www.indrema.com/)

Infomatec showed several example Internet appliance applications, including a set-top box and a webpad, that demonstrated typical products based on the company's Linux kernel based Java Network Technology (JNT) operating system technology. (http://www.infomatec.com/)

Intel demonstrated embedded Linux running on a wide variety of board-level computers, including a small Taiwan-manufactured Pentium-based embedded single-board computer. (http://developer.intel.com/)

ISDCorp although ISDCorp was recently acquired by LynuxWorks, ISDCorp still had their own booth, where they showcased the broad array of Royal Linux support for ARM and MIPS processors. Demos showed Royal Linux running on the Intel SA-1100, Cirrus 7200; LinkUp 7200, TI R4000, Toshiba 3912, NEC VR4121, and a Vadem Clio handheld PC. (http://www.isdcorp.com/)

Lineo showed a large array of eye-catching demonstrations featuring the company's Embedix Linux operating system. These included: Embedix RealTime, with the Linux Trace Toolkit; the Embedix SDK, with Target Wizard; Embedix running on the new Motorola MBX2000 embedded Pentium II-based SBC; Embedix GUI, running on a TV set-top box; uClinux, running on a Coldfire 5307 board in a demo that played MP3s on a pair of speakers and also controlled five robotic servo motors; uClinux, running on the tiny (SIMM-sized) “uCsimm” Dragonball-based SBC with its video displayed on a full-sized VGA LCD; and Embedix Linux with Embedix GUI, running a simulated automated teller machine application on an Advantech touch-screen computer. Lineo handed out free bootable floppies containing Atomic RTAI, an open-source functional real-time Linux distribution that fits on a single floppy diskette, and also made several new product announcements including: Embedix Real-time, High Availability Cluster support, and support for Embedix development on Windows hosts. (http://www.lineo.com/)

LynuxWorks, in addition to all the Royal Linux demos at the ISDCorp booth, LynuxWorks showed BlueCat Linux running three demos in their own booth. BlueCat Linux cross-development was demonstrated, showing the capability to support multiple embedded processor families at once, with the targets Internet-attached and controlled remotely from one host (using Rlogin). A second demo illustrated compatibility between LynxOS (a proprietary POSIX-compliant RTOS) and BlueCat Linux: it consisted of a pair of Motorola's new MBX2000 EBX SBCs—one running BlueCat, and the other running LynxOS—and showed how the same Linux multimedia application ('GIMP' could run equivalently on either OS. A third setup demonstrated high availability and fail-over capabilities, in the form of a chess game: a browser on a PC provided graphical display of the chess board; the chess program itself ran as a server on a pair of redundant system controllers; when the first controller fails, the alternate one automatically takes over the server function and thereby provides uninterrupted operation. Pretty expensive chess game! (http://www.lynuxworks.com/)

Metro Link showed their ability to develop custom embedded Linux-based graphics display solutions and technologies. One such technology is Micro-X, a scalable X server implementation for embedded systems and consumer electronics. In addition, Metro Link disclosed several new products that are currently in development, including a home information management technology suite, multimedia tools, and 3D rendering software (derived from OpenGL). (http://www.metrolink.com/)

MontaVista beneath the shadow of huge, suspended renditions of the company's signature hard-hat-wearing penguin and Kerbango's Internet radio, was a dizzying array of demonstrations of Hard Hat Linux and its features. IBM's VisualAge Micro Edition embedded JVM, riding on top of MontaVista's Hard Hat Linux was shown on an Embedded Planet “Linux Planet” demo systems, running various touch screen interfaces and games. Ziatech (recently acquired by Intel) was demonstrating their unique “Ketris” CompactPCI hot swap and CPU fail-over technology, running on Hard Hat Linux of course. The Microwindows embedded GUI and windowing system, along with the ViewML browser, were shown running on MIPS, StrongARM, and PowerPC processors. Hard Hat Linux and its new Cross-Development Tools and Integrated Development Environment were demonstrated on the tiny Intrinsyc CerfBoard (serving web pages), on the IBM's PowerPC 405GP “Walnut” evaluation board, on Bus-Tech's 1U configurable rackmount appliance, on the new Motorola MBX2000 EBX form-factor SBC, and on an Intel “PICA” (x86) platform. Kerbango's Internet Radio (with Hard Hat Linux inside) provided audio entertainment, streaming audio broadcasts from Real Audio servers around the world. Finally, if you happened to drop by the booth at the right moment, you were treated to a really cool demo: a Compaq iPAQ running Hard Hat Linux and the Microwindows GUI, complete with handwriting recognition. (http://www.mvista.com/)

Motorola Computer Group took the wraps off their new highly integrated yet compact single-board computer, the MBX2000, in the EBX (5.75'' x 8.0'') embedded computer form-factor. The MBX2000 is based on a low power version of Intel's Pentium II processor (in BGA1 chip packaging), and includes a display controller and Ethernet interface, along with a long list of additional I/O ports. On the software side, Motorola announced a partnership with Red Hat to support the high availability requirements of telecom applications. (www.motorola.com/linux)

Synergy Microsystems demonstrated Linux running on their PowerPC-based VME and CompactPCI CPU boards, and announced an agreement to offer TimeSys' Linux/RT on Synergy's products. (http://www.synergymicro.com/)

TimeSys three demonstrations acquainted booth visitors with the Linux/RT operating system associated tools. A demo of the quality of service (QoS) capabilities of Linux/RT showed what happens to streaming video from a USB camera when processes are added to a system—with, and without, QoS parameters enabled. A second demo showed the capabilities of three new TimeSys tools—TimeTrace, TimeWiz, and TimeWarp—including modeling system scheduler performance under varying “what if” conditions. In a third demo, a Motorola Pentium-based CompactPCI computer board was operated as an embedded target system, and ran Linux/RT out of flash memory. (http://www.timesys.com/)

Transvirtual Technologies you could hardly get near Transvirtual's booth! What was all the excitement about? Transvirtual was demonstrating its new PocketLinux OS, an open-source embedded Linux implementation that runs on PDAs like the Compaq iPAQ and VTech Helio. (http://www.transvirtual.com/)

Trolltech announced a graphical user interface (GUI) toolkit and windowing system for embedded Linux based devices, called Qt/Embedded. In its smallest configuration, Qt/Embedded loads from just 700K of ROM (disk). (http://www.trolltech.com/)

ZF Linux Devices showcased the company's MachZ X86 system-on-chip processor and associated development tools and platforms. One cool demo consisted of a very small self-contained computer board bearing the MachZ, several active components, and a small LCD display. Another demo showed the MachZ Integrated Development System; the system contains an ATX form-factor PC-compatible motherboard based on the MachZ system-on-chip processor, plus PCI plug-in cards for video and networking, and serves as a convenient evaluation and development environment. A third demo highlighted the new zPortPC Home Internet Appliance system—an aesthetically packaged device intended to serve as a small, cost-effective platform for a wide range of Internet appliance applications. Choose your favorite color from a rainbow of options! (http://www.zflinux.com/)

Well, that's all for now. See you at the next LinuxWorld Expo and Conference next January, in New York!

Rick Lehrbaum (rick@linuxdevices.com) created http://www.linuxDevices.com/ the “embedded Linux portal”, which recently became part of the ZDNet Linux Resource Center. Rick has worked in the field of embedded systems since 1979. He cofounded Ampro Computers, founded the PC/104 Consortium, and was instrumental in launching the Embedded Linux Consortium.


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