Posted by Allen Watson on May 18, 2011
The Android operating system generates a lot of buzz in the marketplace today – as it should. It’s created tremendous excitement in Smartphones, Tablets and even Set-Top Boxes. Before Android, Linux was the darling of the embedded software community. It’s still a very popular topic of discussion and is, of course, the underpinning of Android itself. When Linux started to get used seriously in embedded systems, it unceremoniously displaced a number of proprietary Real-Time Operating Systems. There was a wholesale defection in many cases to using Linux, from some well-known proprietary RTOSes. Linux, and at time, the growing use of Win CE, was also forecast to signal the end of all other proprietary operating systems. At least one sage asked if the future belongs to Windows and Linux! However, that hasn’t turned out to be the case, of course. Today, there is a vigorous market for RTOSes and there are a vast number of them available – commercial and free (and some that are open source).
A survey last year by embedded.com showed FreeRTOS as the number one choice. As its name implies, it’s a free RTOS available for anyone to download and use, which no doubt contributes to its popularity. But, the proprietary commercial vendors still hold their own. Well known RTOSes include Express Logic ThreadX, CMX Systems CMX-RTX, Green Hills Integrity, Mentor Graphics Nucleus, Micrium uC/OS II and Microsoft Windows Embedded Compact, and Wind River Systems VxWorks. And that’s not them all. There’s Neutrino from QNX (RIM), OSE from Enea and MQX for Synopsys DesignWare ARC processors and many others and even many other free and open source RTOSes.
The onslaught of Linux did change the business models of many (but not all) RTOS vendors. Nowadays, it’s common to get source code and royalty-free licensing. But, the need for RTOSes remains fundamental because of their real-time capabilities and small size. That’s just what you need for many deeply embedded systems. Nothing more, nothing less. Will Android change that? It is not likely.
So, it seems RTOSes will survive the onslaught. Long may they live!
At the age of 10 Mike begged his father to get him a computer. Never mind that at the time computers were the size of a large office and cost millions of dollars. Yes, Mike is no spring chicken and he didn’t get the computer, although his father did give him an abacus telling him that it would enable him to use the computer that he already had between his ears, which was not appreciated. Whether it was due to the trauma that resulted from using an abacus or just Mike’s love of anything electronic he has spent the last 30 years or so designing, building, and programming computers, microprocessors, and microcontrollers and developing applications that run on them. And his fascination continues with the definition of new processors and architectures in his search for the holy grail of computing: infinite performance at zero power consumption. Statistically speaking he is convinced it is just a matter of time.
Allen started in the ‘semiconductor IP industry’ before it was called the ‘semiconductor IP industry’. Back then, it was about ‘megafunctions’, ‘megablocks’ or MegaMacros™ (as trademarked by the pioneering UK IP company Allen was with… no, not that UK company). The biggest of these ‘mega’ things was an 8051! Today, of course, IP blocks are much larger and much more complex. And, it’s about the software, as well as the hardware. It’s also about working with a set of partners, sometimes called an ecosystem or community. Allen has been doing that for many years and is enjoying working with old and new friends on the ARC processor ecosystem.