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MontaVista Takes TI's DaVinci

Linux is coming to a consumer electronics device near you soon, thanks to Texas Instruments's (TI) new DaVinci chip.

TI's DaVinci digital signal processor (DSP) based system on a chip is now shipping as part of an integrated offering together with MontaVista Linux. The move could potentially bring Linux into hundreds of millions of devices, as the consumer electronics chip market continues to grow.

DaVinci, TI's next-generation digital video solution for consumer electronics, isn't just about the silicon either. It's an integrated offering that includes development tools, optimized and application software and the MontaVista Linux Professional Edition operating system.

It's all about making it easier for developers to create digital-video products while at the same time lower cost by using an open system.

"TI understands that there is a larger number of Linux programmers than there are DSP programmers," Huy Pham, DSP System-on-Chip product marketing manager at TI, told internetnews.com. "What [DaVinci] does in partnership with MontaVista is enables the Linux developer to use the DSP without needing to understand the complexity of programming the DSP."

TI and MontaVista had been working on the DaVinci integration for the past 18 months, though the two firms have had a working relationship dating back to the foundation of MontaVista as a company in 1999, according to Peder Ulander, vice president of marketing at MontaVista. Previous TI chips had supported MontaVista Linux as a reference OS, but none had gone as far as DaVinci to put Linux, specifically MontaVista Linux, front and center as a key part of the overall system.

MontaVista recently released version 4.0 and includes hard real-time capabilities for the Linux kernel. MontaVista has been spearheading the real-time development improvements for Linux for more than a year and in August claimed that it had developed native, hard, real-time developments for the Linux kernel.

The real-time developments were a factor in TI's decision to integrate MontaVista Linux into its DaVinci offering. Pham noted that the response time of the latest MontaVista Linux is "tremendous."

Though Linux offers TI and its customers an open platform that is supposed to be easier to develop on and more cost-effective, it also presents a potential legal challenge. The Linux kernel itself is licensed under the GPL license, which other embedded firms say could be an issue, as incorrect code linkage could force a vendor to have to open their own code in order to be compliant.

"There have definitely been a few GPL legal issues and even TI had to work through some of these," Pham said. "TI does have a proprietary processor communication between the ARM and the DSP. We do need to keep that separate from the Linux side."

Pham noted that TI provides its customer with support and some legal advice to keep things separate.

"Yes it's a complication and yes some customers have some issues with it and some questions with it," Pham said. "But in general, it hasn't been so much as an issue as it has been questions."

MontaVista's Ulander said that MontaVista also does its part to help educate and inform users about licensing issues. Ulander sees the support as a key differentiator between MontaVista Linux and a roll-your-own approach to embedded Linux. TI's Pham agrees.

"Our customers so far have all expressed interest in working with MontaVista Linux instead of a roll your own approach because they understand the support that MontaVista provides both on the technical side and on the legal side," Pham explained.