It’s been a hectic month, and I am finally on my way to Embedded Systems Conference in Boston. I am travelling by train (Fig. 1), so I now have a chance to write about my visits to the annual MontaVista Vision 2008 conference and the first annual Renesas Developers Conference. Both offer some interesting insights to the state of affairs in embedded development. As with most vendor sponsored shows, each is targeted at those currently using the associated products.
MontaVista Vision 2008
MontaVista is a purveyor of embedded Linux and its associated development tools, middleware and so on. It is a major contributor to the Linux kernel with many entries addressing real-time performance.
One thing that came out of the conference is the need to rally the embedded Linux community in the same fashion that the desktop and server Linux communities have. It is a laudable goal and one that MontaVista is looking to foster, but it is a long-term effort. We will have to see how this process unfolds and whether other vendors in this space see the benefit in a cooperative venture.
From my perspective, this effort is coming none too soon. Embedded Linux has flourished, but more out of determination and individual effort. Customization is the norm for the embedded space but this does not preclude commonality within the base, especially at the API level. Linux alone is not the answer—hence the need for middleware. Middleware is moving to the forefront such is in the smartphone market where Linux is a major player.
One presentation by Texas Instruments’ William Mills highlighted how they changed their interaction with the Linux community and MontaVista specifically. In particular support for its DaVinci line now grows directly from kernel.org and feeds back into the Linux community. TI is putting the Linux community first. TI was also showing off its new DaVinci OMAP3530-based Beagle Board.
One issue is the use of desktop and server projects within the embedded space. This is fine as long as those projects can be used as is or molded easily. In many cases though, the requirements of embedded systems such as small footprint or real-time support are often ignored in desktop and server projects because these are not issues—hence the need for embedded variants or subprojects. This includes things like the embedded work being done within the Eclipse IDE project.
One thing I did notice about Vision 2008 was the variety of vendors displaying products and presenting sessions. Everyone from IBM to Texas Instruments was there. There were even vendors with other OS or OS related solutions like Open Kernel Labs and Enea. This just shows how much Linux is part of the embedded community and how important it is to interact with it.
Another topic of discussion with MontaVista addressed their SELinux support. This was something I thought would be valuable to a range of developers but it seems that most developers are still not into security.
I found a similar problem in the past when it comes to the use of testing and quality assurance tools. Many developers did not understand why they needed them or thought they could do better without. Many still think that way or are completely oblivious to their use, primarily due to being overwhelmed by existing schedules and job requirements. But, as with many tools, once mastered they provide a significant return on investment. The big problem with these development tools and security frameworks is the payoff is not always to the programmer directly.
Unfortunately, other forces are going to be pushing programmers in this direction sooner rather than later. Multicore platforms typically imply multiple threads. Running thousands of threads without an understanding of security and policies is just a train wreck waiting to happen. My recommendation is to get the background now. SELinux is available with almost all desktop distributions and the management tools are finally improving.
So much for the soapbox.
Some of the interesting sessions at the show included Real Time, Real Fast by Paul McKenny, an IBM Distinguished Engineer. This addressed real time scheduling versus applications that just need to get things done quickly. It was presented in the Linux and open source context.
Jonathan Cobert’s Kernel Report was enlightening especially in the area of storage. Challenges such as very large hard drives and flash storage are becoming more critical in embedded applications, so it will pay to keep an eye on this area.
Other popular topics included power consumption and startup performance, but I did not get a chance to poke my head in.
If you have not made it to one of MontaVista’s conferences and you do embedded Linux work then you might want to add it to your list. There was obviously a MontaVista flavor to the event with a couple of MontaVista announcements but it was more about embedded Linux in general. I’ll be there next year.
Renesas Developers Conference
This was the first Renesas Developers Conference. For a first try Renesas did a great job. Unlike the MontaVista conference, this was more inline with a typical vendor conference with lots of vendor booths, presentations, and products on hand. The keynotes were delivered by Dr. Katsuhiro Tsukamoto, president and COO of Renesas Technology and Ali Sebt, executive vice president of Renesas Technology America.
For those who have not run into Renesas much you might be surprised to know that they are ranked first and second in most of the markets that they are in (such as the automotive industry). Of course, if you work in these areas you probably already know about Renesas.
One thing this show hand plenty of were hands-on labs and lots of generic “how to” sessions—with a Renesas spin of course.
Renesas’ high-end SH line continues its climb with new SH-2, SH-3 and SH-4 offerings. This included the SH-NaviJ1 that targets automotive navigation systems. There were quite a few Windows support vendors showing off SH platforms. This included Windows CE 5/6 support for the SH-NaviJ1.
The more interesting announcements were the new 16/32-bit RX family that is designed to merge the H8 and M16C architectures. The first in the RX family is the high-end RX600 with the lower-end RX200 to follow. The RX family is designed to be a superset of the other two architectures in terms of functionality with a 30% improvement in code efficiency. This includes multibank register sets for fast interrupt response time. Flash memory will push the 4 Mbyte mark and power/performance is on the order of 0.03 ma/MHz. Renesas uses its high performance metal oxide nitride oxide silicon (MONOS) flash memory. Dr. Tsukamoto also highlighted the future use of MRAM that should be available in a couple years.
Another announcement from the show included the R8C/Lx series of 8/16-bit processors that fit below the RX family. The latest crop of chips can handle 1.8-V to 5.5-V operation with a rich set of peripherals including LCD displays up to 416 pixels.
One thing you notice about Renesas developers is that they tend to use the HEW IDE from Renesas. Developers for the higher end SH chips often use Windows CE or Linux in which case they use the respective development tools. Eclipse tends to be an unknown. This is likely to change as Renesas courts more outside software vendors like Express Logic that was at the show. Look for Express Logic’s Threadx and Eclipse-based toolset to be supporting at least some of Renesas’ higher end platforms.
Well, Boston Back Bay is the next stop and then a quick two block walk to the convention center. Now this is the way to travel.