Configurable Thoughts


Can Proprietary RTOSes Survive?

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 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!