September's Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) West in San Jose, Calif., was the site of a large number of operating-system (OS) announcements—with Linux leading the charge. While Linux has been very effective in the embedded market, it is still playing catchup in other areas. The latest set of announcements addresses many of these problems, making Linux an option that must be considered.
The guaranteed 30-µs task switch time for Embedix RealTime 3.0 from Lineo, a Linux OS, puts it on a par with other embedded real-time OSs. Keep in mind, though, that real-time tasks do not have the same programming freedom of normal applications.
Linux/RT from TimeSys Corp., on the other hand, doesn't have the same restrictions. It provides quality-of-service (QoS) support as well as support for symmetrical multiprocessing platforms. Additionally, it supports policy-based thread collections, allowing real-time attributes to be controlled by another thread. Linux/RT supports priority inheritance, high-resolution timers, and periodic tasks as well. Also, Linux/RT extends QoS service to the network with its Network Bandwidth Reservation. It applies the same kind of time and interval reservation as it does with threads. This form of QoS can be useful in cluster configurations.
Deployment improvements are in store for Linux, too. The Embedix RealTime Installation uses a new overlay method that works with standard Linux distributions like Caldera OpenLinux 2.3, Debian 2.1, Mandrake 7.1, RedHat 6.2, and SuSE 6.4.
Linux configuration and updates got a boost at ESC West with RedBoot, a standardized embedded debug and bootstrap solution from Red Hat. This should simplify deployment with a range of configurations, since RedBoot can be configured with debugging and download support. RedBoot addresses a wide range of embedded platforms, including ARM, MIPS, MN10300, PowerPC, SH, V850, and x86 processors. Support for Flash image updates via serial or Ethernet connections will simplify a developer's support chores.
The version 1.2 release of Monta Vista's Hard Hat Linux Cross Development Kit (CDK) addresses a wide range of configurations, including Motorola, Intel x86, StrongARM, and NEC Vr MIPS architectures. It can do this from an x86, PowerPC, or Sparc host. The CDK also includes the Microwindows embedded GUI, the ViewML embedded Web browser, and pSOS emulation.
Microwindows is an example of a potential standard within embedded Linux. Another is Red Hat's EL/IX Level I compatibility layer. This configurable application programming interface (API) is based on a subset of the POSIX.1 and ISO C standards, plus extensions from Linux/GNU and BSD sockets. As with Microwindows, EL/IX isn't the only proposal. It will be interesting to see which interfaces garner support.
AcceLinux from Accelent Systems Inc. stays closer to the standard Linux core. Accelent's latest version includes an integrated development platform for the StrongARM platform. Designed for embedded mobile applications, it supports wireless technologies like 802.11b, Bluetooth, and cellular radio. Yet AcceLinux faces stiff competition from other real-time Linux vendors.
Some Linux news addressed Windows. VisualLynux from Lynuxworks, an add-on to the Visual C++ IDE, lets programmers use the Windows-based IDE as a cross-platform development tool for Linux. It also permits the vast number of Visual C++ developers to apply their expertise on a Linux system. The add-on is equally applicable to conventional and embedded applications. But VisualLynux lacks cross-platform support for Windows technologies, such as Win32, MFC, COM, and ActiveX.
The roar of the conference's Windows OS announcements subsided somewhat with the release of Windows CE version 3, followed by the Windows CE Update Pack. The update provides many useful features, like XML support, that will eventually bring Windows CE into the Microsoft .Net fold. Two other major additions include Crypto API 2.0 support and support for Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) 5.0. RDP provides thin-client access to a Windows 2000 terminal server. Windows CE still lacks hard real-time support, although it can be obtained from third parties like VenturCom and Bsquare.
VenturCom's recent acquisition of Phar Lap Software adds Embedded Tool Suite (ETS) 10.0 to its Win32 set of offerings, which also includes real-time add-ons for Windows CE, Windows NT, and Windows 2000. ETS fills in VenturCom's offering at the low end, though its compact PEG GUI library is a proprietary solution. ETS is really the only Win32-based alternative for low-end, real-time development.
Bsquare expanded beyond its Time Critical eXtension (TCX) for Windows CE by adding the TCX for Windows NT 4.0 and Windows NT Embedded 4.0, plus WinRT USB-NT. With interest in Windows NT for high-end embedded applications growing, this development should put Bsquare on a more equal footing with VenturCom.
The idea of increasing support to increase adoption has not been lost on IBM and QNX Software Systems. The firms have allied to provide IBM's J9 Java virtual machine as part of the QNX Neutrino RTOS. This includes support for IBM's VisualAge Micro Edition and development tools. The combination offers real-time Java application support. It's a good move for IBM and QNX, since it benefits both sets of customers in the embedded real-time Java space. Also, QNX hopes to increase its presence by making its OS a free download from the Web for noncommercial use.
The SLE88 tool suite from Tasking Inc. targets a much narrower market—developers of Smart Card products using Infineon Technologies' SLE88 microcontroller. It includes C and C++ compilers for the SLE88 core and peripheral control processor. Designers, then, don't have to contend with a different development interface. Developers familiar with Tasking's CrossView Pro debugger will feel right at home with the suite. Providing a complete development suite for the SLE88 gives Smart Card developers the opportunity for one-stop shopping.
Another one-stop solution provider is Green Hills Software. It announced the availability of the royalty-free ThreadX RTOS and MULTI 2000 integrated development environment for MIPS Technologies' MIPS32 architecture and its 4Kc, 4Km, and 4Kp cores. Green Hills' development-tool line, including debuggers and compilers for C, C++, EC++, and Ada95, are now supported on the MIPS32 architecture. Support for embedded processor cores has become increasingly important to Green Hills.
Targeting new platforms was also at the base of Microware Systems' release of its Microcode Solutions Library for Intel's IXP1200 network processor. The library supports a range of services, from IP classification to general routing services. It will support any OS running on the core StrongARM processor, but Microware OS-9 support provides a single source for system support.
Meanwhile, Intel I/O processors were at the heart of another announcement. Wind River's new tool suite is designed for Intel's XScale Microarchitecture. Interest in XScale-based designs is high since it is Intel's next generation of I/O processors. Wind River's hardware-assisted tool suite for the XScale Microarchitecture supports the Intel XScale 80200 ARM-based processor. It comes with Wind River's visionPROBE II cable emulation system and visionCLICK software debugger. And, the suite is integrated with Wind River's Tornado development environment.
I/O processing gets a different twist with the Precise/BlazeNet IEEE-1394 high-speed, serial-bus stack from Precise Software Technologies Inc. The stack supports transparent bridging and routing between IEEE 1394 and the Internet. Interest in IEEE 1394 is slowly increasing, with its use in commercial products like the Apple iMac, IEEE-1394 hard disks, and mini-DV camcorders. Still, it will have some competition from USB 2.0. The company also released a simulation tool for the Precise/RTCS embedded Internet stack. It works with the Precise/MQXsim simulation tool.