Embedded plans rise to surface

Leading software vendors will use this week's Embedded Systems Conference to sell developers on creating the next generation of embedded systems and consumer applications.The J Consortium, comprising about 40 developers, including Hewlett-Packard Co.

Leading software vendors will use this week's Embedded Systems Conference to sell developers on creating the next generation of embedded systems and consumer applications.

The J Consortium, comprising about 40 developers, including Hewlett-Packard Co. and Microsoft Corp., will release for public review its proposed standard for running Java applications on embedded systems. Experts will have 45 days to comment on the specification, which the group expects to release by the end of the year.

Separately at the San Jose, Calif., conference, Sun Microsystems Inc. will discuss an alternative standard for embedded Java being developed under the company's Java Community Process.

Meanwhile, five weeks after shipping Windows NT Embedded, Microsoft plans to trot out about 20 partners to show off new devices that use the slimmed-down version of Windows NT 4.0.

The J Consortium specification defines a set of programming interfaces for accessing services provided by real-time operating systems found in millions of devices, ranging from microwave ovens to factory robots.

The operating systems are described as "real time" because applications must execute actions within a prescribed amount of time or the software will fail.

The J Consortium's work is important to companies that have built clean-room Java software, which does not use technology from Java creator Sun and therefore is royalty-free. HP, of Palo Alto, Calif., for one, has developed a clean-room JVM (Java virtual machine) that it calls Chai.

"[The specification] is important for clean-room vendors for two reasons," said Wendy Fong, standards manager for HP embedded software. "The first is because it's had a wide review, so the specification is a solid base for us to build products from, and the second is because it's royalty-free and made publicly available."

Through its Java Community Process, Sun has formed a Real-Time Expert Group, led by IBM, which is developing an alternate set of APIs. Fong said she's optimistic that the J Consortium and Sun-led specifications will be similar. Sun officials in Palo Alto declined to comment until the briefing at this week's conference.

As usual in these platform wars, developers risk being pulled in two directions. "You don't know which [standard] to choose," said Joakim Hedenstedt, product marketing manager for the San Jose-based embedded software division of Mentor Graphics Corp., a maker of debuggers and compilers for embedded system developers. "From a customer's standpoint, it can be quite confusing."

Microsoft will divide its attention between J Consortium issues and its own NT Embedded, with applications ranging from portable medical devices to a flight trajectory system to a large crane, said officials in Redmond, Wash.

Microsoft will highlight StorLogic Inc., an Orlando, Fla., startup building NAS (network-attached storage) devices that will range from small $2,000 servers to high-end servers that cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Steve Paulhus, StorLogic's vice president of business development, said his company chose NT Embedded over Linux. "One thing that weighed heavily in our choice was application availabil ity," Paulhus said. "In the NAS world, the applications dictate a lot. And with NT, a lot of the low- level driver work is just done, so we can focus on our middleware."

Additional reporting by Scott Berinato


J Consortium charter members

COMPANY SPECIALTY
Aonix Development tools
HP JVM for embedded systems
Microsoft Operating systems
NewMonics Inc. Development tools, JVM
Perennial Inc. Validation tools
Plum Hall Inc. Debugging, testing tools

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