The Tip of the Embedded Linux Iceberg

“Show me the Linux!” you say? Embedded Linux-based technology is closer than you think.

People keep asking, “All this talk about Embedded Linux taking off like a rocket sounds great, but are any real companies using Embedded Linux in real products? And, if so, when do these Embedded Linux-based products start hitting the market?”

The answer is “You bet they're designing Embedded Linux into real products! Lots of 'em!” As for when these products start shipping to customers, some are already being delivered in large quantities, and many more are in varying stages of development. Bear in mind, the gestation cycle of most new product-development projects is roughly nine to twelve months, whereas Embedded Linux itself has only just begun to see widespread interest in the past twelve months. If you do the math based on those two assumptions, you'll quickly realize that the rollout of Embedded Linux-based products ought to be starting right about now and is expected to pick up momentum toward the end of this year.

Although Linux Journal and others have covered a number of consumer-oriented, Embedded Linux-based devices through news announcements, preview stories and product reviews, many design projects are, for obvious reasons, conducted beneath a cloak of secrecy. As you can imagine, suppliers of Embedded Linux are fond of saying, “We really wish we could tell you about some of the exciting products we've been designed into, but we're under nondisclosures that prevent us from talking about them.”

Here, then, is a brief rundown on many of the Embedded Linux-based, consumer-oriented devices that have been disclosed publicly. Bear in mind that the list below represents merely the tip of the Embedded Linux iceberg, as it were.

PDAs

Samsung Yopy PDA--The Yopy offers a browser, MP3 player and CompactFlash in a compact PDA-sized package. The device has a 3.9" backlit color LCD screen, uses an ARM processor and provides both RS232 serial and USB expansion interfaces. All “standard” PDA applications are included. See details at www.linuxdevices.com/news/NS6600527506.html.

Figure 1. Samsung Yopy PDA

Agenda VR3 PDA--The VR3 is a full-function PDA with a 160x240 pixel (2.25"x3.25" viewable area) backlit LCD. It is based on a 66MHz 32-bit NEC VR4181 processor, and it has 8MB of system RAM and up to 8MB of built-in flash storage. The built-in flash memory prevents data loss due to a discharged battery condition. The device has a standard RS232 serial port plus a special high-speed serial port, along with an IrDA interface. Its operating system is Linux-VR. See details at www.linuxdevices.com/articles/AT4992223978.html.

Figure 2. Agenda VR3 PDA

Compaq iPAQ PDA--Though not natively equipped with Embedded Linux, multiple projects are underway to develop Linux implementations for the iPAQ, including one from the Compaq-sponsored handhelds.org site. The iPAQ has a 240x320 pixel backlit color LCD screen and is powered by a 206MHz Intel StrongArm processor with 32MB of RAM and 16MB of flash memory. External interfacing and expansion are via IrDA, serial (sync/async), USB and PCMCIA. See details at www.handhelds.org/Compaq/iPAQH3600/iPAQ_H3600.html.

Figure 3. Compaq iPAQ PDA

Phones of Various Shapes and Sizes

Aplio/PRO Internet Phone--Aplio's Internet phone is a compact speakerphone-like appliance that contains a tiny embedded Linux computer running on an Aplio/TRIO system-on-chip processor. Internal memory consists of 4MB of RAM plus a 2MB flash disk, and the Internet connection is made via either a built-in modem or Ethernet (hub) function depending on model. The operating system is derived from uClinux. See details at www.linuxdevices.com/articles/AT9173372049.html and in “VoIP and Embedded Linux”(LJ, September 2000)

Figure 4. Aplio/PRO

Ericsson Cordless Screen Phone--The device is basically a wireless webpad with a built-in telephone and Bluetooth wireless technology for in-home use. It can surf the Web, check e-mail, send voice clips and make phone calls. The embedded computer is based on a National Geode CPU running a Red Hat supplied Linux operating system. The GUI framework is derived from Trolltech's Qt/Embedded GUI toolkit, and the browser is from Opera. See details at www.linuxdevices.com/articles/AT4268573160.html.

Figure 5. Ericsson Cordless Screen Phone

SK Telecom IMT2000 WebPhone--This combination cell phone and PDA has a 4" LCD screen and a built-in video camera. It looks like a PDA but includes a CDMA cell-phone module inside its case. Based on a StrongARM SA1110 206MHz CPU with 32MB of RAM, plus up to 32MB internal flash memory, the operating system software is PalmPalm's Tynux embedded Linux with Qt/Embedded for GUI support plus Opera's browser. See details at www.linuxdevices.com/articles/AT3334419107.html.

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