Focus: Embedded Systems

by Don Marti

Embedded systems, meet Linux. Linux, meet embedded systems. GNU/Linux as a platform for the next generation of appliances, Internet or other, is one of those great no-brainer technical decisions that comes along every few years. Kind of like Cat-5 cable. But look at how many people agree. If embedded Linux tools were on the shelf at your local computer store, it would take a big shelf to hold them. So which embedded Linux company should you look to when you decide to put Linux on your toaster, or your company's new line of desktop machine tools?

Linux Journal can't give you the answer, because we don't know. But as somebody who has been in the Linux business for a while, I can tell you what works for companies trying to bottle the open-source lightning and sell it, and what doesn't. Which embedded Linux tools are going to take off? That depends on accessibility, responsiveness and freedom.

Focus Articles

Accessibility is easy. Most of the people who will be creating cool stuff with embedded Linux tomorrow are doing something else today. Successful vendors won't assume all customers are embedded systems experts. Maybe they're “power users” of the product category they want to improve with Linux. Or hobbyists, or students. A bundled set with software, documentation and a nifty little targetboard would be a big hit.

Responsiveness is a matter of opening up the company to customer questions and admitting mistakes. For a real-world example of responsiveness in action, read some of what Donnie Barnes of Red Hat posted to redhat-list, back when Red Hat was still refining its distribution with lots of what I'll politely call “user input”. Look for an embedded vendor that isn't afraid to let users help make its products better.

Finally, freedom. Look for a vendor who keeps everything under a license that meets the open-source definition, preferably the GNU General Public License. License hassles are a recipe for driving customers away, as proprietary embedded OS vendors are learning.

What you see in this issue is just the beginning. A lot of you are doing embedded projects right now. If you have an embedded Linux success, let us at Linux Journal know. We'll be running step-by-step “how I did it” embedded articles in future issues.

Don Marti is the Technical Editor for Linux Journal. He can be reached at

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