IBM is launching the latest initiative to bring Linux into set-top boxes, working with MontaVista Software to bring its Hard Hat Linux to the PowerPC-based, single-chip Set-Top Box Controller.
They haven't taken off yet, but so-called information appliances -- devices combining a PC's capabilities with the ease of use and low cost of consumer electronics -- are expected to become more and more popular. Early models include the TiVo digital video recorder and various boxes for Web browsing via a television. As more homes gain always-on broadband connections, electronics makers expect consumers to demand appliances for home networking (the so called "home gateway"), Internet gaming, Web browsing and e-commerce.
Given the bonanza reaped by Microsoft from its dominance in computer operating systems, companies are rushing to establish themselves in the embedded operating system market, with two of the main contenders being Windows Embedded and various flavours of Linux. MontaVista's entry, Hard Hat Linux, is based on Linux version 2.4 and competes with versions from Red Hat, Lineo and others.
It will be adapted to work with a set-top box version of IBM's PowerPC chip architecture, which is used in everything from high-end workstations to handheld devices. The STB034xx family includes a video/audio decoder, memory interface and peripheral interfaces on one piece of silicon, reducing the cost of manufacture. It runs at 162MHz.
"Our customers have been requesting support for Linux, and this is a major step forward in meeting their needs," said Scottie Ginn, vice president for pervasive technology, IBM Microelectronics Division, in a statement.
IBM said Netgem, which makes equipment for ONdigital's ONnet, and is one of Europe's biggest set-top box makers, plans to develop devices based on PowerPC and Hard Hat Linux. Engineering samples are shipping now, and general sampling will begin next month.
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