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IEEE Spectrum: Little Linuxes; Embedded devices are Linux's next big win

Mar 01, 2001, 15:45 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Stephen Cass)

"Linux is poised to storm the once-closed world of embedded applications. The open source operating system made its first big impact as a file and Web server, and is currently making headway in the enterprise market. Its next victory will be not on the desktop, but in devices ranging from vending machines to Internet appliances."

"Short time to market" is the core reason why original-equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are demanding Linux-based solutions, explained Chris Gill, vice president of business development and marketing of ZF Linux Devices. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., the company makes an x86 PC system on a chip (SOC) for embedded applications. "Cost is another factor--Linux is free," he continued, "and you can tailor it to your needs. That has historically been extremely difficult to do with Windows [CE]."

"Embedded Linux has already had a number of design wins. The most visible to date is the TiVo set-top box, which allows viewers to pause live television and automatically record programs on any channel. "People are using [embedded Linux for applications] from weather monitoring to controlling vibration damping on the International Space Station," said Pitt. More prosaic applications exhibited at Linux World included vending machines, in-car MP3 music players, personal digital assistants, and Internet appliances. Demand is growing, said Wilkinson, especially in Asia. Gill agrees, saying he has seen demand "skyrocket." Still, he warns that proprietary vendors are fighting back, and the latest release of Microsoft's embedded Windows CE is much improved. But for now, the best things for the upstart Linux operating system appear to be coming in small packages."

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