Why Linux won the embedded market?

Why Linux won the embedded market?

Summary: It's Linux' modular design, a kernel whose features designers can pick-and-choose among, which is causing this revolution in embedded systems.

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Tensilica logoOne story not told often enough involves Linux' growing domination of the embedded market.

In this space Linux usually stacks up against older Real Time Operating Systems (RTOS). The decision by Wind River, the largest RTOS vendor, to migrate toward Linux was a turning point.

There has been no turning back. But this is not an open source story. In fact, the embedded Linux business looks a lot like the rest of the embedded market.

Here is an example, Timesys providing subscriptions to its LinuxLink in order to help Tensilica customers get to market faster. Tensilica calls this a strategic partnership, alongside a deal with Embedded Alley Solutions to provide consulting and training.

The deals are not noteworthy in themselves, except that they point to how Linux has become the mainstream embedded technology of choice.

It's Linux' modular design, a kernel whose features designers can pick-and-choose among, which is causing this revolution in embedded systems.

As chip densities increase manufacturers outgrow the old RTOS systems, and a full-fledged operating system delivers better time to market. Microsoft is not considered viable because it lacks this key modularity, and is years from implementing it.

Microsoft is only now talking about a kernel-based design in Windows 7, which is still in the planning stages.

Outside branded areas like game machines or phones, the embedded market will have sailed away from Redmond long before it's serious about it.

Topics: Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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52 comments
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  • Name of the game is scalability ...

    That's were Linux shines in this respect. From tiny embedded systems all the way up to massive teraflop supercomputers, [b]that's[/b] scalability.
    MisterMiester
  • The world doesn't owe its living to Microsoft

    and in the cut throat business world why on earth would any company let Microsoft get between them and their products, especially given Microsoft's abusive track record.
    fr0thy2
    • Ah yes, the abuse...

      Damn it sucks when people won't give you everything for free huh? I'm really glad the business world doesn't actually operate on your methodology, otherwise we'd be in the same boat europe is in. 14.7% unemployment, upwards of 60% income tax, 26% vat tax, and a welfare driven economy.

      Fact of the matter is, the only people crying 'abuse' are the people microsoft isn't 'locking in.' And really, if locking in means getting 10 USD impressions of windows Vista for machines I sell, lock me in! I'll take the occasional hit on the consumer that wants ubuntu. Oh, wait, you mean I have to pay full commercial license fees for that too if I sell it to someone? Damn...
      Spiritusindomit@...
      • Nice diversion there, well done ;-)

        So back to my point, why would, say, Nokia/Motorola etc let their entire future be manipulated/slowed/twisted etc by expensive software from a monopoly with an abusive self-interested track record? Would it not be illegal, with regard to your own shareholders, to take such a risk when a better platform is freely available?

        The main problem with MS is that the drones (like you) give them money, and they use that to screw up any progress/freedom/competition in technology. But you don't care because it's all you know.
        fr0thy2
      • Citation needed!

        As a 'citizen of Europe' things are certainly getting tighter but your figures seem a little bizzare - where do they come from? Have you just cherry picked the highest figures for different areas from countries across Europe? That's a bit like saying there are problems with a recent DMCA bill and the price of Tortillas in the Americas :)

        Citations please!!
        mark@...
  • You realize Microsoft has a separate operating system...

    ... for such uses. I wouldn't say the company is years from being able to compete, or make a reference to Windows 7.

    Given the company's history, I suspect that the advantages Microsoft will seek are the ability to interact with other devices and the ability to allow third-party modifications.

    Adding software to a refrigerator is difficult to contemplate now, despite the plans to have the appliance notify the owner about supplies to be purchased. But if software can produce features which encourage purchase, then Microsoft has a potential market.

    As often, the point is Never say never.
    Anton Philidor
    • MS lock-in abuse part II? Dream on .....

      Ain't gonna happen. They've shot their bolt in terms of who and what they are.

      Why should a person have to contribute to MS shareholder value just to have some software in their fridge? Why should the fridge manufacturer open themselves to MS fun and games?

      Been there, seen that, got the t-shirt ....
      fr0thy2
    • Third party modifications...

      are you in some kind of dream state. That is the last think MS is going to do. In fact, they are begging the open source world to write product for their bloated OS so there will be third party implementations.
      bjbrock
      • Different word

        I was thinking about the network effect, developers writing for Microsoft products because everyone has them and everyone buying the Microsoft products because of the developers' work.

        Wasn't it Microsoft researchers who did the demonstration of the refrigerator calling someone at work to tell him to buy milk on the way home? I can imagine someone taking a call and then complaining the TV won't be quiet.
        Anton Philidor
        • False premises

          [i]I was thinking about the network effect, developers writing for Microsoft products because everyone has them and everyone buying the Microsoft products because of the developers' work.[/i]

          Except that in the embedded world, "everyone has them" isn't remotely the case. People aren't counting on running Adobe Photoshop on their cellphones, or on their refrigerators. People aren't insisting that the only brand of CD-burner that they'll accept for their lawnmower is Nero, no others need apply. Which means that Microsoft doesn't have a starting advantage in terms of the infamous "application barrier to entry."

          At the same time, developers writing for embedded apps aren't looking at a world where the installed base is overwhelmingly MS, either. Which means that they're not building business models on creating shrink-wrapped software tied to MS, which means that you're back to the above paragraph.

          It's a whole new world, actually. At least one embedded-processor manufacturer has libraries that allow "write once, compile for all of our chips" support spanning 8, 16, and 32-bit processors. When product developers get used to that kind of flexibility, MS' business model starts to be a [u]major[/u] handicap.
          Yagotta B. Kidding
          • Not now.

            If people are willing to play movies on their cell phones, ruling out photoshop may be sensible but premature.

            It's easy to think of software written for certain appliances as ludicrous, though odd developments occur. Think of the advertising opportunities in refrigerators and lawnmowers. When Microsoft sells server software with WMP (music for all the hours and years waiting for a malfunction?) nothing is impossible.

            Interconnected appliances can create markets. Controlling processes remotely will probably generate sales. Embedded software will require flexibility and third-party software adding functionality seems certain to develop.

            Microsoft's strengths - and Linux's weaknesses - are not entirely irrelevant to the embedded market.
            Anton Philidor
          • Microsoft's ste

            What you call Microsoft's strength, integration of non-OS apps in the OS, is actually its biggest weakness in the embedded market. This severely limits how low it can go in terms of small systems, requires more unused resources (memory, Flash) in a highly cost sensitive business, and it does not allow the flexibility that is required to minimize hardware in embedded applications. Its biggest weakness however is that unlike Linux, you have to buy an incompatible version of Windows (CE), to get a real embedded OS. This incompatibility greatly reduces the developers ability to use any existing apps without porting it to CE. With embedded Linux, you've got the same Linux everybody else gets with just enough software to make it do what you need for it to do, with the least amount of hardware needed to get the job done. Thats how embedded works.
            Hemlock Stones
    • Anton actually makes a good point

      The success of the MS based
      Sync system for Ford is an
      example. Hyundai is now
      working on bringing in the same
      feature.

      The system brings Ford an extra
      $400 per vehicle when a buyer
      chooses to. Ford has reported
      that something like 40% of Focus
      buyers order it.

      It's probably far cheaper for a car
      company to pay MS per car than
      it is to engineer their own system
      by modifying Linux.
      j.m.galvin
      • Not necessarily

        [i]The system brings Ford an extra $400 per vehicle when a buyer chooses to. Ford has reported that something like 40% of Focus buyers order it.

        It's probably far cheaper for a car company to pay MS per car than it is to engineer their own system by modifying Linux.[/i]

        It's just a voice-IO API, and not unique to Microsoft. The applications still need to be written to use them no matter which you choose.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
        • Correct ...

          Volkswagen and BMW didn't choose to go with the Microsoft implementation:

          http://www.linux.com/feature/135687

          Intel and Wind River are behind this project on the MID platform so I would believe that Ubuntu Mobile Linux may have a hand in this somewhere. ;)
          MisterMiester
        • That was not Anton's point

          He said that MS would adapt (or
          at least try to) to new markets.

          Sync is an example of that
          adaptation.

          Other car companies my choose
          to use a different technology, but
          that does not mean that MS has
          not adapted.
          j.m.galvin
      • You can also pay Wind River, Montavista, TimeSys, etc, for a complete build

        Actually, even the per unit cost of WinCE does NOT include the engineering work to support a particular board. You get little for what you pay per unit. And, there is no guarantee that MS will be interested in adding features they you desperately needed.

        Much better to pay somebody to create a custom version of Linux for your board, and be assured that you can pay to have the features you want, WHEN you want them.
        DonnieBoy
    • Given the company's history:

      Given the company's history they will copy what is happening or they will hang around and then try and buy a way in - its what they've always done - bought Qdos, ripped off Stacker's disk compression, Xerox windows, Mosaic internet browser.

      They can't buy, so possibly their preferred option will be to set their legal department to find ways that they can breach the Gnu GPL.
      kwacka
    • Never?

      I kicked MS off my computer. What the hell makes you think I'm going to buy a refrigerator MS on it? I don't need to come home to a blue touch screen and warm beer. In the face of a growing reality, your statements Anton, look more and more ridiculous. Like Vista reaching 180 million sales when in fact Steve Ballmer said it was 150 million last week. Your job dictates what you must say and what you cannot say. That makes you shill. As long as you are under the influence of Microsoft, you will NEVER tell the straight truth with regards to Microsoft and everybody else.
      kozmcrae
  • Modularity contradicts MS's basic approach

    MS will change its product to allow substantial modularity. The reason it was able to dominate the browser market was that it intentionally fully integrated MSIE. That way, if a court found antitrust activity, MS could say, "But, Judge, we CAN'T remove MSIE because it is a fundamental part of the operating system." It would be like running all electrical components of an auto through connections in the HUB CAPS and then telling people, "You HAVE TO buy the hub caps at $200 each. If you remove a hub cap none of the electrical equipment will work."

    Way before Windows caught on modular design was a standard principle of engineering. MS didn't go integrated because they didn't know, they went integrated for anti-trust reasons. Also, substantial modularity makes it easier to clone part of a product's functionality.
    Rick_R