The penguin has you (1 Viewer)


Senior Member
Dec 31, 2000
The Penguin Is Popping Up All Over

By Alex Salkever
March 31, 2004

Linux is rapidly gaining market share in embedded operating systems. "I wouldn't be surprised if it were 20% right now," says Nadamuni. That's a far cry from the middle single digits, where Nadamuni put Linux two years ago.

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Dana Myers is known as the penguin lady at chip giant Texas Instruments (TXN). Since 2002, Myers has overseen development work on compact versions of the open-source Linux operating system used to run chips and circuit boards in mobile phones and other electronics products. And during the past year, Myers has boosted the size of her development team by 75%, to nearly 100 people. "All over the world, customers are asking us for Linux," says Myers.

Wait a second. Doesn't Linux reside mostly on servers, the powerful computers that run data centers, publish Web pages, and drive corporate networks? Until recently, the answer was yes. However, Tux the Penguin -- Linux' mascot -- has escaped from the server closet and is now waddling across a much wider expanse of the technology landscape.
Do you use a Linksys (CSCO) Wi-Fi router to surf the Web wirelessly? You're probably doing so using Linux. Drive a Volvo? Somewhere under the hood, Linux is running on key microprocessors that monitor the car. Watching video on a TiVO personal video recorder or smashing a home run in the 2004 World Series on a Sony (SNE) Playstation game console? The penguin is the wizard behind all those curtains. For such uses, "Linux is emerging as the favored operating system," says Scott Smyers, vice-president of Sony's Network & Systems Architecture Div.

That's only the initial flow in an avalanche of consumer electronics, telecom equipment, and networking gear that will be powered by specialized versions of Linux in the coming year. "We're extremely bullish about the future," says Jim Ready, CEO of MontaVista Software, which produces "embedded" operating systems for electronics devices. The Sunnyvale (Calif.) company sells software tools and versions of the Linux operating system that have been specially modified for customers such as TI, Volvo (F), French telecom equipment giant Alcatel (ALA), and Korean electronics maker Samsung.

To date, embedded operating systems -- unalterable software that runs microprocessors whose job is to perform a limited number of tasks -- have remained a small piece of the tech market pie. In 2002, the global market for this type of software was only $675 million, according to Stamford (Conn.) tech consultancy Gartner. That should grow to more than $1 billion by 2007, a number that will still pale by comparison with the broader software and hardware markets.
Even so, embedded systems are a key underpinning of the trillion-dollar global electronics market, says Gartner analyst Daya Nadamuni. And in the future, they'll take on an increasingly important role as cars become infotainment centers, cell phones become digital jukeboxes, and pacemakers transmit data wirelessly to hospitals to warn of a heart attack.

Real Brains Needed
Cheaper and cheaper processors also are allowing electronics companies to build more and more computing power -- and a wider range of capabilities -- into everything from exotic medical-imaging equipment to tiny global positioning system location-tracking chips. "If a product only does one thing, it's less important that there be an operating system on it. But as we see growth in multifunction devices, a real OS makes more sense," says Peter Glaskowsky, an analyst with tech research firm In-Stat/MDR, based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The ability to exert control over the software that runs these millions of devices will become a crucial checkpoint in the global economy. And Linux -- "open-source" software that's not only cheap but available to anyone to use or modify -- is emerging as an enabling technology in this equation. For example, a maker of cell phones that incorporate an embedded Linux OS may find it easier to build cheaper and more flexible open-source billing and tracking systems. Or an open-source media server might more easily send movies to a Linux-based TV set-top box.
Because of that potential, Linux is rapidly gaining market share in embedded operating systems. "I wouldn't be surprised if it were 20% right now," says Nadamuni. That's a far cry from the middle single digits, where Nadamuni put Linux two years ago. And it reflects an increasingly bipolar world in embedded systems, where Linux and Microsoft are gobbling up market share from smaller proprietary suppliers and exerting an irresistible tug on device makers.

Uncounted Millions
Sound familiar? It should. To a degree, the same dynamics are propelling Linux' swift rise in the server OS market. Linux had a 7% share of that market in the fourth quarter of 2003 according to Framingham (Mass.) tech tracker IDC. But this number may not reflect the tens of millions of free versions of Linux that system administrators have downloaded and installed themselves. And year-over-year, Linux posted a 63% increase in market share, by far the biggest increase for any server OS.

This rapid growth in part reflects Linux' rapid move into the embedded operating system market. Until recently, makers of proprietary operating systems mainly worked that sector. The largest among them, Wind River (WIND), attained close to 50% market share but remained far from dominant, as no one company could create products to span the thousands of types of processors that run embedded software. In fact, many device companies -- in aerospace and defense in particular -- have kept their development and code in-house.
As Linux has begun to mature, however, electronics makers have started to focus on its advantages. By incorporating it, they can minimize the number of operating systems they use in products to boost efficiency -- and thus free their programmers to concentrate on work that adds value to their products.

They also think they can reduce their time to market by creating modular code that can be reused frequently. And they want to tap into the growing pool of software development talent that has flocked to Linux. "We're not tied to Linux in any philosophical sense, but it's pretty much becoming a lingua franca in the development community," says Malachy Moynihan, an engineering vice-president for networking communications and consumer-electronics company Linksys.

"When we're looking for someone who understands an embedded OS, they're most likely to understand Linux," says Moynihan. The Cisco Systems subsidiary makes more broadband routers than any other company, and the majority of its products now use Linux as their primary operating system, says Moynihan.
One reason comapnies such as Linksys love Linux is that it won't go away, as proprietary operating systems can if the companies that own them fail. And having access to the source code is crucial when a device maker has to certify that products have certain capabilities, says Glaskowsky.

Clashing Priorities
This is critical in a world in which literally thousands of processors are used for electronic devices, each of which may need modifications to optimize its performance or add features. Take the case of Cyclades in Fremont, Calif., which makes hardware systems that can help data-center managers remotely turn their servers off and on. Its customers include Yahoo! (YHOO), Google, and NASA.

"Proprietary embedded software companies might not have the motivation to develop a specific feature for us," says Marcio Saito, Cyclades' chief technology officer. But with Linux at its core, Cyclades can easily buy or build any features it wants and integrate them into the OS without worrying about licensing agreements or dealing with suppliers who may not see Cyclades' immediate needs as their top priority.
Better still, Cyclades feels it can tap into technology advances from university Linux labs that companies selling proprietary software might take much longer to incorporate. For example, Saito says Cyclades was able to build encryption technology into its products far faster than its competitors were because Linux versions of it were freely available and well constructed.

Just Ask
In that sense, the pool of Linux developers around the world has become a research and development arm for electronics companies. When Internet security appliance maker ServGate realized it needed a special type of device driver (software that lets one device talk to another) for a product in development, rather than build it itself or hire a contractor to do so, it queried the open-source community and was able to find an existing driver that fit its needs.

"It easily would have taken two to three months to spin that out for ourselves," says Bruce Hendrix, ServGate's CEO. With Linux, "we had it done in one week. It's not as though you get rid of your R&D department, but you can leverage a greater R&D community."
Taking such leverage to another level are a handful of industry consortiums formed around the idea of building embedded Linux versions for their members' needs. Japanese and European consumer-electronics makers including Sony, Matsushita (MC), and Philips, have started collaborating in such groups. So have telecom companies that want to build a form of Linux that can be used as the backbone of the next generation of networking and communications gear.

Red Hot in Redmond
"The consumer companies realized that they were independently doing [similar] projects in open-source software," says Sony's Smyers. "There was an obvious benefit to working together. It represents one of the most sophisticated collaborations I have seen." Working together, the competitors are using Linux to help speed boot-up time and improve power management in consumer electronics products. Smyers says even though this means rivals will share technology, it leaves plenty of room for them to build distinctive features that will differentiate their products.

Although Linux is popping up in places beyond the server room, it has far to go before it takes over the electronics world. Microsoft (MSFT) has essentially matched Linux' growth trajectory, as Redmond's embedded-OS unit posted the fastest revenue growth among the company's business units in the fourth quarter of 2003, according to Scott Horn, director of the embedded-systems group at Microsoft. The 66% increase in the quarter pushed Microsoft's embedded revenues to $68 million, which represents less than 1% of the total company take but is a fairly large figure for this market. And Microsoft has logged some impressive customer wins including German performance carmaker BMW and mobile-phone maker Motorola (MOT).
Horn contends that the convenience Microsoft offers with its versatile embedded-software systems will eventually win out over Linux. "Companies are finding it takes a lot more engineering resources than they expected and a lot longer than they expected when they used Linux to build products," he adds. Linux advocates vigorously contest that assertion.

Offering Two Worlds
Regardless of which side is correct, both sets of rivals are preparing for a long race. "Much of the other proprietary stuff has dropped out, and it's a battle between Windows and Linux for the future," says Rob Enderle, an analyst at software and hardware research firm Enderle Group.

The pressure to survive has grown so intense that even the company with the largest share of the embedded-OS market, Wind River, has chosen to push into Linux and develop products in tandem with Linux powerhouse Red Hat (RHAT). That's quite a statement from a company that claims its VXWorks operating system has 40% to 60% of the market. Now, Wind River believes it can win by offering customers the ability to work in both the open-source and proprietary worlds.
"We have a huge advantage over everyone else in the Linux distribution space," declares Wind River Senior Vice-President John Bruggeman. "We've got the dominant market position in both and the ability to interconnect both." His argument has merit, because even though Linux and Microsoft will be the big players, at least some other competitors such as Wind River will likely also be left standing in five years.

High-Stress Requirements
What's more, Linux still faces some serious questions before it can reach every corner of the embedded-systems market. Unlike PCs or servers, embedded systems often control tasks where failure can be catastrophic or fatal, such as flap controls on a fighter jet or the braking mechanism on an elevator. Not only do embedded systems need to be reliable they also must operate under much tighter constraints than software on PCs and servers.

For example, response time can be a crucial factor when an embedded system controls a factory production line, where a command delay of five seconds can cause significant damage if, say, a supervisor needs to shut down the line instantly. And telecom equipment makers often require that the likelihood of system failure be less than 0.001% so as not to interrupt critical data and voice communications. Those types of performance requirements make customers extremely leery of change.
Still, thus far such concerns -- or even the threat of intellectual-property lawsuits from renegade software company SCO -- haven't scared away MontaVista's customers. The company has added 1,200 of them since 1999 and is enjoying revenue growth rates of 70% annually, says CEO Ready, as more and more customers pay thousands of dollars for the use of its customized Linux programming and for support from its engineering staff. Other embedded-Linux suppliers are likewise reporting strong growth.

"We're at the beginning of an enormous opportunity," says Ready. With Tux now finding new environments to thrive in, how huge that opportunity will prove to be might even surprise Ready and his Linux-loving cohorts.


Friggin long but interesting nonetheless..

Layce Erayce

Senior Member
Aug 11, 2002
micro$oft makes huge profits from their products/services. linux sells much less products/services and on average they are very cheap compared to micro$oft. their linux OS is FREE compared to XP which is expensive(although very good i must say).

so no. no bill gates :D


Senior Member
Dec 31, 2000
++ [ originally posted by Josh ] ++
i just dont want to see THEM become the new microsoft
Linux is not a company, it's an operating system. :)

ie. linux equivalent to windows
microsoft equivalent to red hat, suse, mandrake (companies selling linux commercially) etc

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