Electronic Design

Freeing Communications

Migration of software to open source is often a well kept secret, even though PR agencies try their best to get the word out. A good example is Enea's LINX. At the SourceForge open-source project Web site, we find that "LINX is a distributed communication protocol stack for transparent internode and interprocess communication for a heterogeneous mix of systems."

So why was this project started? LINX is integrated with Enea's OSE real-time operating system (RTOS) and a key feature in Enea's network host solution. Dual licensing is part of the puzzle, as with many companies that open-source this type of critical component.

Use software with something like the GPL (General Public License) and live with the open-source requirements or license the software from the company under different terms. This approach works well if the company provides all the updates. In fact, many successful companies that open some or even all of their systems have taken this approach.

Another example is Meshnetics' OpenMAC project, which uses the Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL). This 802.15.4 protocol stack is the basis for Meshnetics' ZigBee stack. The current implementation targets Atmel's AVR - more specifically, the AVR Z-Link Kits.

Some projects, like OpenMAC, implement existing standards while others, like LINX, implement their own communication protocols. LINX and other projects that implement their own communication protocols are more interesting because open source opens the communications link to a wider audience. Rarely will these protocols become formal standards, but this approach makes it much easier to turn them into de facto standards and a rallying point for subsequent development.

Major open-source projects like Linux, Apache, and Eclipse have demonstrated this process - and turned the embedded market on its head. Open-source software is now a major portion of the tools, middleware, and RTOS market. Development kits are more likely to come with more extensive support because of bundled open-source systems in addition to the proprietary alternatives.

Still, too many companies try to lock up protocols, making it difficult to interface to their solutions. This works for large companies or for companies with a monopoly on their product area. But in general, it tends to limit the growth of the solution space.

Finding tidbits like LINX isn't easy. There are more than 480 projects on SourceForge in the clustering category alone, and SourceForge is only one site supporting open-source projects. The amount of traffic on the LINX site at this point is small, but it could be the platform you're looking for.

LINX is a great location-transparent and platform-transparent interprocess communication system that's as good as or better than a host of similar proprietary solutions. It runs on top of many transports, including TCP/IP sockets, so it can bridge any number of RTOSs as well as Windows and Linux. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Enea www.enea.com
LINX sourceforge.net/projects/linx
Meshnetics www.meshnetics.com
OpenMAC sourceforge.net/projects/openmac

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