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Embedded Linux Seen as Ready For Prime Time

It's one thing for a vendor to claim that Linux is ready for the embedded development market. It's quite another to have a multi-year study involving hundreds of projects and over 1,300 developers report it.

Embedded Market Forecasters (EMF) has revealed in a new report how effective embedded Linux has been for developers to develop projects. The report contrasts the use of non-supported, roll your own Linux, supported Linux efforts, as well as proprietary embedded operating systems like Symbian and Windows CE.

The result? The report found that "embedded Linux has achieved design parity with commercial RTOSes (Real Time Operating Systems) for most projects."

"Linux has been accepted not only in the industry but among the traditional RTOS vendors as witnessed the promotions by Green Hills and Wind River with their OS agnostic IDEs," Dr. Jerry Krasner, the report's author, told InternetNews.com.

Thought the market may be accepting of Linux for embedded development, Krasner argued that market acceptance is distinct and separate from the parameters that determine design outcomes. Furthermore Krasner added that his research did not go looking for an outcome and they had no preconceptions regarding what they might find.

That said, Krasner does have some opinions on why embedded Linux is now at parity with commercial alternative. One reason has to do with the demise of the Embedded Linux Consortium (ELC) in 2005.

"The ELC was a technology-driven association. When an association oversees and supports the same vanilla OS and does not support the member vendors' ability to differentiate themselves, the vendors are bound to feel the impact," Krasner said. "As long as any association creates an environment which is not commoditized it can thrive. If the business becomes commoditized growth will be restricted."

Some of the differentiation in the embedded industry today is coming from vendors that until recently were staunch proprietary embedded OS supporters. Wind River which is well known for its VxWorks operating system first jumped into the Linux space in 2004.

"At first Wind River's Linux efforts were confusing to the industry and their customers who wondered if Wind was abandoning VxWorks," Krasner noted. "What they were acknowledging is that Linux had a real market potential and that they were going to support VxWorks as well as Linux."

The version of Linux that an embedded developer chooses matter, at least in terms of whether it has commercial support or not. Among the key finding in the report is the fact that surveyed developers reported that using a commercially support version of Linux resulted in a more effective outcome than by using a roll your own Linux approach. Among the most popular commercially supported version is MontaVista Linux.

Krasner noted that EMF's data statistically reflects what developers report. The survey asked if they: 1)are familiar with a vendor's specific product; 2) have used the product in the past 12 months; 3) have shipped a product based on the vendor's product and; 4) intend to use the product within the next 12 month period.

"Based on the data collected in response to these questions, Monta Vista enjoyed a strong representation in the survey," Krasner said.

As to where the embedded Linux might be heading in the future, that's up to the embedded developers themselves.

"Our data can be crossed tabbed and analyzed in thousands of ways - and we depend on our subscribers to use the data to discover information that is important to their strategic planning and competitive analysis," Krasner explained.

"It is very comprehensive and statistically accurate -- and we have year-over-year data going back more than 10 years. We can't pursue every item and market segment. As such we don't plan to reproduce the paper in the immediate future. "