The Embedded Side of LinuxWorld

Rick takes a customary “walk on the embedded side” of LinuxWorld Expo in New York City.

After three days of roaming some 100,000 square feet of exhibition area populated by 200 companies' exhibits and attended by perhaps 20,000 “Penguinistas”, I've certainly had an eyeful of Linux.

After letting it all sink in for a few days, I've come up with a few general observations. First of all, there were more suits this year, more glitzy exhibits and fewer of the small (10 x 10 foot) booths. Second, many more exhibitors displayed this year—the exhibit area seemed to have doubled in size since last year's New York show. Also, this year's show suggests Linux has hit adolescence. There seemed to be much more of an air of a maturing industry in comparison with last year's New York show, with companies like IBM, Intel, Compaq, Sun, SGI and HP on hand. Finally, embedded really arrived at this LWE. A common theme just about everywhere was the growing importance of Linux in “devices” and embedded systems. In fact, I'll venture a prediction that this year is shaping up to be “the year of Linux in devices”--with products like Linux-based PDAs, cell phones, webpads and set-top entertainment systems hitting the market in growing numbers.

Of the 200 exhibitors, roughly 20 identified themselves in the show guide as offering “embedded systems” products, but nearly twice that number were promoting embedded Linux products or services of one kind or another. In case you missed the show, here's a brief summary of what I found.

Accelent Systems showed their Integrated Development Platform, an embedded Linux- and StrongARM-based reference platform to help companies develop Linux-based internet appliances and other embedded devices. See http://www.accelent.com/.

Applied Data Systems showed four demos of their GUI-oriented embedded Linux- and StrongARM-based single-board computers (SBCs), despite having all of their booth equipment lost in transit. These included the Bitsy, a 3" x 4" SBC running embedded Linux; the Tandem, a two-headed StrongARM SBC running two independent displays off one processor under embedded Linux; the Graphics Client Plus, running Century Software's Linux desktop toolkit; and the Graphics Master running embedded Linux. See http://www.applieddata.net/.

Axiom showed a number of embedded and industrially oriented single-board computers in the PC/104, EBX, 3.5" and half-size slot-card form factors. Axiom's products are now supported under Linux. See http://www.axiomtek.com/.

BSDi had a sign at their booth that said “eBSD—the Internet Expert's Choice to Embed in Internet Applications and Appliances”. There wasn't any further explanation available nor was anyone around who could tell me anything about the company's strategy with respect to the embedded (BSD) market. See http://www.bsdi.com/.

At Century Software's pedestal in Red Hat's pavilion, Century Software's Microwindows, ViewML and PDA software toolkit were being demonstrated on three platforms:

  • The first public demonstration of full motion MPEG video under Microwindows, based on a fast framebuffer display technology known as Simple DirectMedia Layer (SDL), was running on an ADS Graphics Master SBC.

  • Microwindows, the latest ScreenTop PDA suite, 802.11 wireless networking and Doom (the game) were all being demonstrated on a Compaq iPAQ. Century Software CEO Greg Haerr described the latest ScreenTop programs as “more user-friendly and Palm-like”.

  • In this third demo, an SIS motherboard was shown booting all the way to the Microwindows desktop in just seven seconds—quite an accomplishment. The secret to doing this is a combination of LinuxBIOS, the Memory Technology Driver (using a DiskOnChip Flash disk), a small footprint Linux kernel and, of course, Microwindows. See http://embedded.centurysoftware.com/.

Compaq was naturally showing off the exceedingly popular StrongARM-based iPAQ PDA, which these days seems to have become the preferred platform for Linux PDA software development. Just try to buy one. See http://www.compaq.com/.

Coventive had its LinuxWorld debut featuring a massive circular pavilion with a large number of Coventive and partner product and technology demos distributed all around its circumference: Axis Corporation's (Japan) canD, a very small, stylish and easy-to-install Linux-based TV set-top box with a remote control, containing a customized GUI and Linux software that fits in 8MB ROM, all based on Coventive's XTinux embedded Linux operating system; a Chinese Linux PDA manufactured by Legend, based on an Intel StrongARM processor and Coventive's XTinux, including a full-featured browser with PIM/SYNC funtions as well as handwriting recognition for simplified and traditional Chinese; a Linux-based, on-line stock trading software application demonstrated on Coventive's set-top box reference design; one of the first Linux-based smart card readers from Disonic (Taiwan) and a “Gigabyte Server Appliance” with easy-to-use GUI and containing Coventive's Linux OS embedded in ROM, “allowing non-techies to set up and monitor the network environment”. See http://www.coventive.com/.

DevelopOnline showcased both its on-line capabilities and its partners in five demos: the STMicroelectronics STPC system-on-chip Internet Appliance reference design, a demo of the DevelopOnline integrated development environment (IDE), shows precisely how developers can use the service to upload and test software on selected reference platforms using one of several on-line embedded Linux software development kits (SDKs); RidgeRun, a DevelopOnline partner, explained and demonstrated DSPLinux, an embedded Linux OS specifically tuned to the requirements of TI dual-core processors that combine ARM and DSP processors on a single chip; Insignia Solutions' Jeode Embedded Virtual Machine (EVM), a Java-compatible embedded software environment demonstrated on a ThinkPad running Red Hat Linux; and a remote demo, accessed via DevelopOnline's web technology, shown running the Jeode EVM and the PointBase embedded database running on an iPAQ under Hard Hat Linux. See http://www.developonline.com/.

Hewlett-Packard demonstrated the new Chai Appliance Platform for Linux, a suite of integrated software components for creating internet-enabled information appliances. See http://www.embedded.hp.com/.

IBM showed their ever-popular Linux wristwatch, a complete Linux system in the body of a tiny (56mm x 48mm), geeky looking watch. IBM was also demonstrating DB2 Everywhere, a database for embedded systems that fits in less than 150KB memory, which was announced at the show. In another part of their very expansive booth, IBM showed a “technology demonstration” of a Linux-based retail point-of-sale (POS) system. See http://www.ibm.com/linux/.

Intel showed several demonstrations of embedded Linux, including the Assabet reference design for the StrongARM SA-1110 (which forms the basis of Compaq's iPAQ design). The Assabet was running from a battery pack and, according to the Intel spokesperson, achieves 10-12 hours of operation with the LCD backlight turned off, or roughly six hours with the backlight on. Intel's new XScale microarchitecture, the successor to StrongARM, was also being demonstrated running embedded Linux at the MontaVista and LynuxWorks booths. See http://developer.intel.com/.

Lightning Instrumentation showed a miniature embedded Linux-based router device, the MultiCom Ethernet II. Lightning-Linux, the embedded Linux OS used within the MultiCom router device, is also being made available independent of the hardware. Much of Lightning-Linux is apparently available under the GPL. See http://www.lightning.ch/.

linAXE Project had a tiny booth displaying something brand new. linAXE started out as an effort to develop a Linux-based RTOS to control the popular “BattleBots” fighting robots. Since then, the linAXE Project has broadened its scope. See http://linaxe.sourceforge.net/.

Lineo had, as usual, a pavilion bustling with activity and providing many interesting demonstrations:

  • The successor to Lineo's uCsimm is the uCdimm. The new soDIMM form factor (1.7" x 2.7") SBC is based on a DragonBallVZ microcontroller and, not surprisingly, runs uClinux.

  • Trolltech (a Lineo partner) was present, demonstrating Qt/Embedded and the Qt Palmtop Environment (QPE).

  • Rappore (a Lineo partner) was present, demonstrating an embedded Linux-based Bluetooth stack in a demo that consisted of a dollhouse with lighting, garage door, etc., controlled by a notebook computer with everything interconnected via Bluetooth wireless communications.

  • The Lineo SecureEdge VPN router platform was demonstrated.

  • A small PowerPC-based PC/104 form factor single-board computer from Embedded Planet was used to demonstrate M-Systems' latest DiskOnChip embedded Linux driver.

  • The new Lineo Academic Student Kit was on display. This kit, which contains a uCsimm, the uClinux OS, a small experimenter board and a detailed instruction manual, will be sold to students for $250. It includes courseware and software CDs. Thirteen universities are already using the kit as part of their computer science classes. See http://www.lineo.com/.

LynuxWorks demonstrated the open-source BlueCat Linux and the proprietary LynxOS real-time OS (RTOS) in their pavilion, which now represents the combined strengths of LynuxWorks and ISDCorp, a company acquired by LynuxWorks last summer. Demos included an interesting display of the Linux application binary interface (ABI) compatibility of a preview version of the next release of the proprietary LynxOS real-time OS (RTOS). Similar Linux- and LynxOS-based systems (PCs) ran identical binary images of Quake, along with identical images of another resource-hogging program. Real-time priority was then adjusted on the LynxOS RTOS system to show off the capabilities of “a true RTOS”. The new SpyKer real-time event profiler and trace tool was demonstrated, as was PhatNoise's Phatbox, an automobile MP3 player-based on embedded BlueCat Linux. A high-availability chess game, based on BlueCat Linux with host failover, was demonstrated at Intel's booth, and M-Systems displayed DiskOnChip support for BlueCat Linux. See http://www.lynuxworks.com/.

Metro Link demonstrated Micro-X, a windowing solution for embedded Linux. “Micro-X is based on the X Window System protocol, so you won't have to learn a new interface to develop for embedded systems”, they say. Micro-X was shown running on an Intel StrongARM SA-1110 platform. Micro-X fits in as little as 575K of memory and supports x86, PowerPC and ARM/StrongARM, and will soon support MIPS. See http://www.metrolink.com/.

Metroworks showed their recently enhanced CodeWarrior IDE that provides embedded debugger and remote debugging capabilities on a Motorola PowerPC 8260 reference board and an Embedded Planet PC/104 form-factor PowerPC 823 SBC. The booth's theme was “Embedded Linux—Increasing the IQ of Smart Devices”. See http://www.metroworks.com/.

MontaVista had lots to see, with eight product demos and five partner demos. Some highlights follow:

  • A high-availability CompactPCI system demo-based on Hard Hat Linux, Ziatech and Motorola CompactPCI processors, with MontaVista's High Availability software, backplane networking software and hot-swap drivers.

  • Various cross-development tools, graphic embedded kernel configuration tools, graphical IDEs, remote debuggers and performance analysis tools.

  • @win, a small footprint (200KB) GUI/windowing system from MontaVista partner Adelinux (Korea), running on a Compaq iPAQ (compatible with GTK/GTK+ and QT toolkits).

  • A Compaq iPAQ PDA running Hard Hat Linux and the X Window System with internet browsing via Netscape 6 and live video display within an X window.

  • MontaVista's approach to a hard real-time Linux kernel using two identical systems running sound applications. One had a “vanilla” Linux kernel, while the other contained MontaVista's real-time enhancements. The CPU and scheduling latency for each was shown on a continuously refreshed chart.

  • Motorola's 74xx Altivec processor running Hard Hat Linux on a Motorola Sandpoint embedded reference design, support for embedded Java applications under Hard Hat Linux based on IBM's VisualAge Micro Edition (VAME) and IBM's 750CX/CXe PowerPC running Hard Hat Linux.

  • A StrongARM-based customer retail point-of-sale subsystem (designed by RadiSYS for USA Technologies) called ePort was shown as an exposed electro-mechanical subsystem and mounted inside a soft drink machine, so now you can browse the Web while you buy your Coke.

  • A customer's 1U “industrial strength” rackmount gateway appliance (made by Diversified Technologies) with Hard Hat inside.

  • One of the first working demonstrations of embedded Linux (Hard Hat Linux, of course) running on Intel's new XScale microarchitecture (the next generation of the StrongARM processor) running on Intel's XScale evaluation platform. See http://www.mvista.com/.

Neoware's award-winning Eon computing appliance (the Anything Box), running the Neolinux 2.0 embedded Linux operating system, was demonstrated. Unique internet appliance-oriented features such as ezConnect (a simple user interface) and ezSnap (a software distribution capability) were demonstrated. See http://www.neoware.com/.

NexCom showed a number of embedded and industrially oriented single-board computers in a variety of popular form factors, large and small. NexCom's products are now supported under Linux. See http://www.nexcom.com/.

OnCore Systems demonstrated OnCore Linux for Real-Time, a real-time platform that can host multiple copies of Linux in a hard real-time system environment. See http://www.oncoresystems.com/ for details.

PEP Modular Computers showed their 3U and 6U CompactPCI boards and systems now supported under Linux. These kinds of products are used in high-reliability systems for telecom and internet infrastructure, industrial control, military and medical applications. See http://www.pep.com/.

Portwell showed a number of embedded and industrially oriented single-board computers in EBX and other embedded and industrial form factors. Portwell's products are now supported under Linux. See http://www.portwell.com/.

Red Hat showcased three examples of embedded technologies: the Century Software discussed previously; the Red Hat Embedded Linux Development Kit running on a Motorola MBX860 EBX form-factor single-board computer; and uClinux and eCos running on a NetSilicon NET+Lx reference design system. See http://www.redhat.com/embedded/.

RedSonic showed the RedIce-Linux real-time Linux operating system and associated development and debugging tools. Additionally, RedSonic showed off its hardware/software set-top box real-time and embedded-system reference design. See http://www.redsonic.com/.

Sun Microsystems showed several demonstrations of the J2ME Java for embedded devices that supports embedded Linux-based systems. Hardware platforms included the Compaq iPAQ PDA and an Arcom embedded Linux reference platform. The J2ME occupies between 2 and 4MB of memory space. Wireless 802.11 technology was also demonstrated on the iPAQ embedded Linux system. See http://www.sun.com/software/.

TimeSys showed five demos of real-time Linux that demonstrate the quality-of-service (QoS) and real-time capabilities of TimeSys' Linux/RT operating system:

  • An Embedded Planet PowerPC 860 board running TimeSys Linux/RT, with TimeTrace used for dynamic visualization of system events and context switches.

  • JTime, the TimeSys real-time Java Virtual Machine, running on top of TimeSys Linux/RT, controlled a small robot via a wireless serial connection.

  • A StrongARM-based Corel NetWinder system demonstrated Linux/RT's QoS capabilities through the reservation of computation time on behalf of two chess programs.

  • The QoS capabilities of Linux/RT on a desktop system, by assigning network and CPU reservations for video and audio conferencing software, demonstrated its capability to maintain acceptable live audio/video performance despite heavy system loading.

  • Quake III was shown running on a Linux desktop with CPU reservation controlled by a unique “QoS knob” that altered the QoS setting—you could turn the knob clockwise/counterclockwise and watch the game's performance get better/worse right before your eyes. See http://www.timesys.com/.

Transvirtual Technologies demonstrated the latest version of PocketLinux, a Linux/Java implementation for PDAs, handhelds and embedded computers. Interesting new features shown included 80 2.11 wireless communications, plus MPE and MPEG media players. Many PIM applications are now available for PocketLinux, including both utilitarian programs (calendar, address book, memo pad, e-mail, Flash player, instant messaging, XML/XHTML browser, etc.) and tons of games. See http://www.transvirtual.com/.

Trolltech demonstrated Qt/Embedded and the Qt Palmtop Environment (QPE) running on a Compaq iPAQ PDA. They were also giving away free floppies containing a PC-bootable embedded Linux system consisting of Qt/Embedded, PIM applications (date book, address book, text editor, file browser, etc.) and games (Mine Sweep, Tetrix and Solitaire). The floppy image is downloadable from Trolltech's web site. See http://www.trolltech.com/.

Viosoft showed their embedded Linux cross-platform SDK for RISC platforms, including MIPS, ARM/Strong/ARM and PowerPC. They also demonstrated Arriba!, a Java-based IDE with a Windows-style graphical debugger. See http://www.viosoft.com/.

ZF Linux Devices showcased support for their MachZ system-on-a-chip, including the tiny MachZ demo board, Integrated Development System (a MachZ-based internet appliance reference design) and Tri-M's MachZ-based PC/104 form-factor SBC, featured in Embedded Linux Journal's design contest [see “Hack Embedded Linux for Fun and Prizes” in the November 2000 Embedded Linux Journal supplement]. See http://www.zflinux.com/.

As you can see, there were lots of embedded products and demonstrations at LinuxWorld—many more than at the previous shows. At the rate Linux is penetrating the embedded market, we can expect to see an even greater amount of embedded Linux activity at the next US LinuxWorld Expo and Conference, to be held August 27-30 in San Francisco, California.

Rick Lehrbaum (rick@linuxdevices.com) created the LinuxDevices.com 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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