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Embedded Linux Takes Big Strides Forward

MontaVista Linux Pro Hits 4.0

  • September 2, 2005
  • By Brian Proffitt

The evolution of Linux in the embedded space has taken another big step forward with the recent release of MontaVista Linux Professional Edition 4.0.

Though MontaVista plans to officially announce the upgraded product on September 6, LinuxPlanet has learned that the product is already shipping to customers, who are already starting to benefit from the real-time capabilities of the product.

The flagship product from the Sunnyvale, CA-based company brings a new 2.6-based kernel to embedded space (2.6.10, up from Pro 3.1's 2.4.20 kernel) and more of the embedded engineers' holy grail: faster real-time response times. And, according to Senior Product Manager Michael Matthews, the new platform delivers this and more using a full-fledged Linux kernel. Nothing forked, nothing truncated... "Real Linux," Matthews intoned during a briefing with LinuxPlanet.

MontaVista will be using the "real" moniker quite a bit with this new version of Pro--not to detract from other Linux distributions, but rather to emphasize the continued pure aspects of MontaVista Pro. Besides the aforementioned full kernel, there is also the company's emphasis on using all open source components and their committment to participating in open development projects.

And, of course, the "real" label doesn't hurt to emphasize the real-time performance of the new iteration of this operating system.

Real-time is an extremely important part of most embedded systems these days, because devices have grown from single- or low-function devices to multi-function devices like PDAs or smartphones. As the complexity of devices' functions grow, a decision-making mechanism will be hard-coded into the embedded OS to save time. Most advanced systems will execute this code on a 32-bit or 64-bit processor and such code is typically referred to as a Real-Time Operating System (RTOS).

In the embedded industry, these systems must calculate results in less than a maximally acceptable time. That acceptable time, based on MontaVista's standards, is below 20 microseconds.

Besides being extremely fast, RTOSes have to be highly stable. They also have to be available on a variety of platforms. In the early days of embedded systems, operating systems were designed for each proprietary platform. Matthews explained that today, customers want operating systems that are multi-platform and can handle multi-function devices. MontaVista Pro 4.0 delivers on this market need, with support for more than seven architectures, 30 processor families and over 50 modern board-level platforms.

Pro delivers this support through unique processor family´┐Żspecific tool chains, specifically with the GCC 3.4.3 compiler included in Pro 4.0. Matthews emphasized that not only was this tool-chain upgraded from the previous version, it was also rebuilt to accomodate the inclusion of the Native POSIX Thread Library (NPTL), a Red Hat-designed threading library first introduced in 2002. For customers who still desire the standard Linux threading libraries, that technology is also included in this release.

By definition, all embedded systems use cross-platform development. It's hard to code right on a cell phone or other devices, so development environments are included with embedded operating systems that let coders hack something together on a more friendly platform (like a PC) and then shift the code to the actual device for testing/production. MontaVista's environment is known as DevRocket, and it, too includes some new features. Matthews emphasized the twin development kits in DevRocket: the platform developer kit for the nitty-gritty operating system coding, and the application developer kit for thise ready to start making some apps for devices.

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