Red Hat embraces embedded Linux

The alternative OS makes another step toward the info-app market with the first open-source IDE for software developers

Hot on the heels of the unveilings of Transmeta's Mobile Linux and Lineo's Embedix, Red Hat is joining the embedded-system fray with its Red Hat Tools for Embedded Developers (RHTED).

RHTED is an open-source integrated development environment (IDE) for software developers. It uses any Linux operating system to develop embedded Linux programs for most computing devices.

Such developer tools will enable programmers to port existing Linux applications to Linux-powered embedded devices. The tools, themselves open-source, should greatly expand the ability of Linux programmers to easily and quickly move into embedded-system development.

RHTED combines an IDE with a debugger in a single package. RHTED is built to work with all mainstream Linux kernels and can be used to deploy embedded applications for embedded Intel 32-bit and PowerPC chips.

The tool manages Linux interoperability by its use of Red Hat's EL/IX application programming interface (API). That API will free programmers from needing to use any particular embedded Linux variant, such as Embedix or Mobile Linux. The Red Hat (Nasdaq: RHAT) product will ship with the latest base version of the production Red Hat Linux kernel. That means you can expect to see RHTED first ship with the Linux 2.2.12 kernel.

RHTED, the first fruit of a merger between Cygnus Solutions -- a major programming corporation in its own right -- and Red Hat, will be introduced at this week's LinuxWorld Expo in New York. The product, which includes installation support via e-mail, is expected to start shipping March 1 at a list price of $599.

Why is Red Hat doing this? After all, in addition to Lineo and Transmeta, young, eager companies such as MontaVista Software, Zentropix Computing LLC and more than a dozen others already are shipping their own real-time, embedded Linuxes.

The reason is as old as business: money.

According to International Data Corporation (IDC), by 2002 there will be more than 55 million handheld and notebook-style information appliances. By 2005 IDC expects those devices to outsell information appliances. That's a lot of potential.

It's a potential that Michael Tiemann, Red Hat's chief technology officer and co-founder of Cygnus Solutions, said he thinks could be wasted.

"The embedded market has always had a high degree of fragmentation, with over 100 operating systems. This has made the embedded market lag far behind the desktop market," Tiemann said. "Linux has shown that open source's unified development works. We think smaller companies are making a mistake by developing specific Linux distributions. It could lead to more fragmentation, and we all know how negative fragmentation can be for our market. We just don't think this is the open-source way."

That distinction explains the RHTED approach, where any Linux can serve as the development and deployment platform for many embedded architectures.

Tiemann adds that he doesn't envision RHTED as a direct competitor with all of the other embedded Linux players. For example, he says he believes RHTED could support Mobile Linux and Transmeta's Crusoe chip in the future.

Regardless of how well RHTED does in the marketplace, there are already other attempts afoot to make sure the embedded Linuxes don't stray too far from their common base code.

The founder of LinuxDevices.com, a Web site devoted to embedded Linux, is leading an effort to form a nonprofit embedded Linux consortium. The fledgling group has the backing of players like Lineo, Lynx Real-Time Systems, MontaVista and Zentropix. If the association does, indeed, gel, it probably will use one of Zentropix's domain names, www.embedded-linux.org. The group will meet for the first time March 1 during the Embedded Systems Conference in Chicago. Top of the issue agenda? Linux interoperability.

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