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Designers can now choose from a range of open source operating systems.

There has been a significant move within the industrial sector towards the use of open source software and, more recently, operating systems.
Mention ‘open source’ and it’s likely that the word ‘Linux’ will pop up. But while a range of applications are using Linux in order to access a wider range of open source software, some companies believe it’s not the best route to take.
One of these companies is Freescale, which bundled the Freescale MQX real time operating system in the recently announced MCF5225x microcontroller range. The aim, according to the company, was to provide a ‘one stop software shop’.
John Weil is manager of Freescales’s mcs software enablement group. He said MQX has been around for some time. “But it has been through a number of acquisitions and the name has come on and off the market in this time.”
Weil said the OS is suitable for use in a range of applications, including industrial, consumer and automotive products. “It’s real claim to fame,” he observed, “is its scalability. It can be used in a ‘cut down’ format, all the way up to a fully functional system.”
The OS is not a stranger to Freescale’s product portfolio: the OS has supported Freescale ColdFire and PowerPC processors since the late 1990s. “It has supported Freescale’s 8 and 32bit microcontroller products, including the HC11 range, as well as more high end devices such as the PowerQUICC,” Weil claimed. “And it’s used on the PowerQUICC processors in laser printers, where it performs as a true deeply embedded rtos.”
Returning to the flexibility aspect, Weil used the example of a network router. “If you’re building a networking router,” he said, “you can include more models. The kernel can be configured from a few thousand lines of code to hundreds, depending upon the application.”
The benefits? Weil noted: “One of the key problems which we’re trying to solve is for those customers looking for open source solutions. However, ‘open source’ means different things to different people; the GNU Public License or using GNU tools, for an example.”
He sees a problem in using apparently ‘open source’ software and operating systems. “Sometimes, users need to see the source code; sometimes they need a broader license, sometimes there are safety or audio requirements. All of these things mean there is a need to know where every line of code came from. What users want is vendors to provide traceability.”
Weil believes customers who are thinking about using Linux should sit down and ask themselves why. “Is Linux overkill?” he asked. “Many designers will specify Linux because they believe it’s the only way they can get network connectivity, for example. They think Linux has a low cost of ownership and believe the only way to go is Linux or buying a particular solution.
“When they use Linux, they often admit they thought the cost of ownership would be lower.”
“It’s an established operating system,” said Jim Stuart, Freescale’s industrial marketing manager EMEA, “with a big installed user base.” According to Stuart, provision of MQX is a major financial move. “It’s effectively $90,000 worth of software being provided for free.”
One of the other attractions, besides an apparent ‘something for nothing’, is the licensing model for MQX. “It’s simple,” Stuart contended. “Customers acquire the source code free of charge and can use it ‘as is’ or modify it to suit their requirements. But, because of the licensing model, customers don’t need to share any developments they make or extensions they create.” Because of this, Stuart continued, it’s ‘corporate user friendly’. “Companies don’t always want to share their IP with the community,” he observed.

Graham Pitcher

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