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MontaVista Tightens Embedded OS Market

MontaVista Software today announced the release of version 4.0 of its embedded Linux OS, MontaVista Linux Professional Edition Pro. The new release is based on the 2.6 Linux kernel and includes hard real-time capabilities.

MontaVista is aiming to take share from its embedded rivals with the new release, in particular Wind River and Microsoft. The company claims it is offering a "real" alternative to proprietary embedded solutions.

Real-time capabilities in Linux are a particular focus for MontaVista. At the beginning of August, the company claimed that MontaVista Linux has narrowed the real-time gap for Linux.

Mike Matthews, product line manager for MontaVista Linux Professional Edition Pro explained that when MontaVista builds 4.0 they actually build it with three different kernel configurations to support three different modes of real time.

It could be a full real-time environment in a fully preemptable kernel; it could be what MontaVista calls desktop real time, which is essentially a balance between real-time responsiveness and production or application throughput; or it could be real time turned on completely.

"We do believe we're moving Linux in the right direction that's not to say it's going to move away from servers and desktops but it will now be fully capable in the embedded space meeting the most stringent demands," Matthews told internetnews.com.

What's debatable, however, is the definition of what actually constitutes "hard real time." Matthews argued that MontaVista feels "very comfortable" with what it's able to achieve meeting the hard real-time requirements of customers.

"The key here is we're not saying there is one number that defines hard real time," Matthews explained. "What we're saying is hard real time is defined by project requirements and market requirements."

Mobile phones have a different set of requirements than telecom and datacom, according to Matthews.

"Linux will deliver for most application for real-time response," Matthews said.

MontaVista is taking aim at Wind River and Microsoft customers, as well as with the new release. WindRiver's VxWorks is one of the proprietary real-time operating systems that MontaVista Linux competes against. Wind River itself also jumped on the Linux bandwagon back in November 2004.

Matthews noted that convincing Wind River VxWorks users to migrate to MontaVista is "relatively easy."

"We've been shipping the most important APIs from VxWorks that are used by the majority of those customers, allowing them to migrate from that platform to MV easily," Matthews said. "We have training courses and professional services. We've actually targeted those customers and we've been very successful at pulling them over because VxWorks is getting a little long in the tooth."

The current leader in the embedded OS space according to a pair of 2004 studies is Microsoft.

"The key with Microsoft has been to play against their restrictive nature in terms of licensing and in terms of what they will support," Matthews commented. He added that it is strong in consumer electronics but doesn't have much in the carrier grade business.

"We've already outstripped them in terms of the number of phones in in the mobile wireless space and it's partly because they are so restrictive and a confined environment," Matthews said.

MontaVista specifically target the mobile space with its Mobilinux platform, which is the basis of a number of mobile devices from Motorola, NEC and Panasonic. A new version of Mobilinux, which will be based on MontaVista Pro 4.0, is expected to be released later this year.

Matthews was keen to note that MontaVista is working with the Linux and open source community, with its real-time efforts. That's not to say, however, that what exists in the community is exactly the same as what exists in MontaVista Linux.

"It's not simply that everything is offered back to the community and it's exactly what MontaVista has," Matthews explained. "MontaVista has frozen [code] on a certain level of all the applications, tools, etc., and that's why we're shipping the product.

"The community doesn't have the stabilized snapshot that MontaVista produces in a product form."

The GPL license, which is the Free Software license under which Linux is distributed, is a reciprocal license and allows for any MontaVista competitor to also take advantage of the contributions made by MontaVista.

One such distribution may be TimeSys, which recently unveiled a "roll-your-own" approach to embedded development, pulling sources from the community.

"We kind of fund or support our competitors in that way," Matthews said. "The big difference is that we're way ahead in terms of the commercial-grade product picture."