Linux Embeds Itself Yet Further

One of the many confusingly-similar groups in the open source space is Linaro: a Not For Profit (NFP) organization that aims to make embedded open source development easier and faster. Linaro will create a common software foundation for...


One of the many confusingly-similar groups in the open source space is Linaro:

a Not For Profit (NFP) organization that aims to make embedded open source development easier and faster. Linaro will create a common software foundation for software stacks and distributions to land on and provide the best open source tools for developers to develop on. The focus is on low level software around the Linux kernel that touches the silicon, key pieces of middleware that enable new markets and tools that help the developer write and debug code. Linaro aims to maximize the potential of the latest features of ARM-based processors, helping provide optimized performance in a lower power envelope.

Despite that infelicitous "power envelope" stuff, Linaro is important for two main reasons. First, it focusses on ARM processors which means that it's building up a second ecosystem alongside the mainstream Intel-based one (the fact that ARM is designed by a British company is also rather nice.) Secondly, and perhaps more crucially, it is aiming squarely at the embedded sector.

Embedded systems, of course, are the great iceberg of software. Most of the time we are barely aware that they are there, and yet as more and more intelligence is added to consumer products and industrial systems, their capabilities becomes ever-more crucial for modern society.

This lends Linaro's focus a particular value: it is about spreading open source in one of the fast-growing sectors. Moreover, it's one where free software's low/zero cost, robustness, small size and customisability are crucial advantages over traditional proprietary solutions. Indeed, I think it's pretty clear that the embedded world will be one that Linux is likely to dominate, at least in the medium term, until something completely new and better comes along (assuming that ever happens).

Linaro's importance has just been underlined by the following announcement:

Following completion of its first major release in November, Linaro announces the expansion of its ecosystem to include Advisory Partners Canonical, GENIVI, HP, LiMo Foundation and MontaVista Software all of whom are involved in building complex Linux based software. The Advisors will help to guide the Linaro Technical Steering Committee (TSC) on critical industry needs, facilitating the alignment of requirements.

Canonical, HP and the mobile device consortium LiMo will need no introduction here. MontaVista's presence is appropriate, because it was one of the first to realise the potential of Linux for the embedded space:

MontaVista Software was founded by Jim Ready in 1999. Jim was the developer of the first commercially viable, real-time operating system, the VRTX kernel. He founded Ready Systems in 1980, and then in 1999 founded MontaVista Software to bring the Linux operating system to the embedded device market. From the beginning, Jim said he wanted to make it "100% Pure Linux" under the GNU General Public License (GPL). MontaVista delivered their first commercial Linux for the embedded market in 1999 and hasn't looked back since. Today over 2000 companies trust MontaVista Linux to run their products.

Here's some background information about the oddly-named Genivi:

The Genivi (pronounced gen-ee-vee) Alliance was officially launched in March, 2009 heralding a new era of cooperation among automakers, suppliers and technology providers in the interest of streamlining the development and support of In-Vehicle Infotainment or IVI products and services.

IVI is a rapidly growing and evolving field that encompasses automotive infotainment products and services including music, news, Internet and multimedia, navigation and location, and telephony. Automobile manufacturers and their suppliers must develop, test, deploy and support these IVI products and services across multiple automobile models and generations, which is becoming increasingly complex and expensive as the rate of innovation and number of applications continues to expand exponentially.

Genivi is leading the way forward by developing a reusable, open source IVI platform. Our founding members included BMW Group, Wind River, Intel, GM, PSA, Delphi, Magneti-Marelli, and Visteon.

Our Mission: Drive the broad adoption of an open source development platform by aligning automotive OEM requirements and delivering specifications, reference implementations and certification programs that form a consistent basis for further open source and ISV development.

Essentially, Genivi seeks to create an open source standard for certain kinds of in-car software, notably entertainment. Its tie-up with Linaro should help to minimise the fragmentation which has frequently bedevilled Linux in many areas.

All-in-all, then, these moves, although not particularly high profile when compared to some of the other excitements in the world of computing, should help to push free software ever deeper into the world of embedded computing – and hence into the "real" world of everyday devices.

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