Without Costing an Arm and a Leg


Superficially, the following news of a rare and welcome British hi-tech success story has nothing to do with open source:

ARM today announced that the total number of processors shipped by its Partners has exceeded ten billion. The company developed its first embeddable RISC core, the ARM6 processor, in 1991, and its semiconductor Partners currently ship almost three billion ARM Powered processors each year.

“ARM Partners have now shipped more than one processor for every single person on the planet” said Warren East, CEO, ARM. “Ten billion ARM processors in use mark an enormous milestone for ARM, but also demonstrate the growth in adoption of the ARM processor architecture by the vast majority of major electronics companies and across the broadest range of applications.”

ARM has grown to become the largest microprocessor IP company in the world, and the ARM processor portfolio covers every area of microprocessor applications, from very low-cost embedded microcontrollers, up to very high-performance multicore processors for demanding networking, mobile and consumer entertainment applications. As a result, ARM processors can be found in products ranging from the LG Viewty, Nokia N95 and Sony Ericsson P1i smart phones; the iPhone and the iPod; Garmin, Navman and Tom Tom portable navigation systems; Kodak still cameras; Sony video cameras; and the Nintendo DS handheld gaming device, up to Toshiba HD digital televisions; hard disk drives from Samsung and Seagate; automotive braking systems from Bosch; HP printers and wireless routers from Linksys and Netgear.

The connection is that Linux was ported to the ARM architecture many years ago, which means that a substantial number of those ten billion processors out there are, in fact, running on free software, even if most users are blissfully unaware of the fact. Although there is also a version of Windows Embedded CE for the platform, the advantages of Linux are clear: zero cost, small footprint and the ability to hack the code.

I don't know what proportion of those ARM processors are running Linux, but I'd be willing to bet that it's significant and increasing. Call it the secret success of open source.

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