Going Beyond the Linux Kernel
The Linux Kernel
A year ago, using Linux as an embedded kernel would have been the "story" of this article. Six months ago the wisdom of this choice would have been debated. Today, there are still papers and articles written and published against Linux being a viable alternative for an embedded kernel. However, the reality is, Linux is a supported kernel on many embedded platforms. The number of vendors and OEMs advertising Linux is growing daily. Embedded Linux has become expected - a necessary element to any successful platform.
So, let's look at embedded Linux. Why the growth? Why the demand? What is the Linux community offering that has taken the interest of the embedded market? The Linux movement in the embedded community has not been taken by storm - but the movement is there.
The True Cost of Linux . . . Free?
We can't discuss Linux without discussing pricing. The most significant reason for projects and companies adopting Linux for use in all types of products is the cost. This is true of embedded projects as well. Linux being "free" outweighs a lot of arguments against using this kernel.
Now, there are those who oppose the adoption of Linux as an embedded platform, and they dispute the claim that Linux is free. Realistically, they are correct. Any project that takes on porting or supporting the freely available kernel does have costs incurred. These are costs in terms of man-hours for doing the port; or in terms of real dollars paid to a third party for doing the port. There are costs in setting up and testing the tool chain and the kernel for a new processor core.
For the OEM or platform provider, these costs exist no matter what kernel is chosen. The Linux solutions for porting a supporting new hardware prove time after time to be much less expensive than the alternatives. Furthermore, passed on to the integrator or application developer, the costs associated with Linux are insignificant.
A hardware supplier or OEM can typically provide a Linux Board Support Package (BSP) for around $500. This is a one time only price, and there is usually no licensing involved (the real place Linux is free). This is substantially less than the BSP costs or licensing costs in the popular embedded kernels.
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