Electronic Design

Big Year In Store For Embedded Linux, Java

Embedded Linux represents a change in the long-time licensing technologies and business models associated with embedded systems. The availability of source code, reduced licensing costs, reliability, open-source community support, communication capabilities, expanding microprocessor support, and more software development tools means that Linux will continue to garner embedded developers.

VDC views Linux usage within the noncommercial OS community as a large market opportunity for embedded Linux software solutions. With roll-your-own OSs becoming increasingly difficult to maintain due to greater sophistication and complexity of software, Linux offers a solution that satisfies the need for source code availability, control over the OS internals, and reduced licensing costs. Support for the Embedded Linux Consortium's effort to develop a vendor-neutral "Unified Platform Specification" will address developer concerns regarding fragmentation.

In 2001, VDC estimates that worldwide shipments of embedded Linux OSs, add-on components, and related services were $28.2 million, growing in 2002 to $59.1 million. While this represents a small portion of the total worldwide market for embedded software solutions, estimated at $1.4 billion in 2002, embedded Linux usage is growing.

Embedded Java hasn't been an overnight success. Originally conceived as an embedded platform, it first found acceptance on the desktop, then in the enterprise. Now, Java is emerging as the preferred platform for mobile data and Internet access. What happened? Updates to the technology resulted in application-specific forms of Java, including the tiny K virtual machine and MIDP profile.

Java in embedded applications had a breakout year in 2002. However, major rollouts remained confined to just a few product groups, most notably mobile phones and to a lesser extent PDAs and set-top boxes. In 2002, VDC estimates that these three categories accounted for over 59 million Java-enabled device shipments. Mobile phones made up over 90% of that figure. This year will be the ramp up to volume with over 150 million Java mobile phones, almost 10 million set-top boxes, and more than 1.5 million PDAs expected to be sold. Java should become a mainstream technology, well on its way to being nearly as common as mobile phones themselves.

Look for Java to start appearing in more traditional embedded applications where real-time behavior is required, such as telecom infrastructure, industrial automation, and perhaps even the military. The same characteristics that make Java a nice fit for consumer-oriented devices make it natural for real-time applications.

VDC research shows that currently just over 20% of embedded developers use software modeling tools. But this number will significantly jump over the next few years. UML 2.0 should be a large catalyst. The Object Management Group is expected to approve the update to the UML standard by mid-2003. Already, major tools vendors are preparing product releases, which are expected to meet the requirements of the standard. UML 2.0 will provide software developers with a stronger foundation for designing systems by using software components, simulating models, and popular standards like XML, and by automatically generating code. These changes will make UML tools more mainstream as they more closely replicate how software is really designed. Concurrently, they will maintain that layer of abstraction, which results in faster design times.

A recent survey of embedded developers showed that C continues as the language of choice, but a considerable number still uses assembler. Embedded developers' interest and adoption of C++ and Java has risen over the last few years, with more than 40% of developers citing the use of C++ as part of their software development efforts.

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