Embedded Linux All Around You

Linux is appearing in the wild more and more – unbeknownst to most consumers. If you have a Linksys router, it’s the box’s embedded OS. If you have a Volvo, the engine management system is Linux-based. It’s even employed to enable pacemakers to transmit data wirelessly to warn of a heart attack. There’s even a Linux-based watch, but Sesame would kill me.

Linux-based kernels are favoured in these smaller systems for three key reasons:

  • they make the most of limited hardware
  • Linux is cheap (often free)
  • it is well documented and understood, not relying on proprietary code that is protected

We’d like to gather together some links here for you to explore, to find out more about Linux in the devices you use every day.

Linux is not without its problems though – some of the code in the kernel is flaky to say the least, and many things that users take for granted, such as Firewire support and drivers for common hardware, are either nightmarish to enable, or just non-existent. However, kernel support for hardware is improving and much of the more imaginative code is being weeded out rapidly.

Away from the purely embedded side, Sony have had success with the Linux development kit for the PlayStation2 – a product that only demonstrates how flexible the operating system really is. Sony produced the kit to encourage home development for the system – much like the Yaroze version of the PS1. Sadly, though, we can’t remember the last time we popped into Game and bought a title that was written on either dev system – to an extreme with the PS2, the two platforms are enormously complex and hardly the sort of things that bedroom coders will be able to produce a top-flight title with. Oh, bring back the days of Braben and Bell and Elite.

With the number of devices growing daily, Linux seems to be expanding just as fast as the whole Digital Lifestyles world – and we’ll keep you up to date with the pros and cons of this fascinating growth area.

Linux is popping up all over

Embedded Linux – see how many Linux-based items you own but didn’t know about

Building Embedded Linux Systems

Published by

Fraser Lovatt

Fraser Lovatt has spent the last fifteen years working in publishing, TV and the Internet in various capacities, and believes that they will be seperate platforms for at least a while yet. His main interests at the moment are exploring where Linux is taking home entertainment and how technology is conferring technical skills on more and more people. Fraser Lovatt was born in the same year that 2001: A Space Odyssey was delighting and confusing people in the cinemas, and developed a lifelong love of technology as soon as he realised that things could be taken apart, sometimes put back together again, but mostly left in bits or made into something the original designer hadn't quite planned upon. At school he was definitely in the ZX Spectrum/Magpie/BMX camp, rather than the BBC Micro/Blue Peter/well-behaved group. This is all deeply ironic as he later went on to spend nine years working at the BBC. After a few years of working as a bookseller in Scotland, ("Back when it was actually a skilled profession" he'll tell anyone still listening), he moved to England for reasons he can't quite explain adequately to himself. After a couple of publishing jobs punctuated by sporadic bursts of travelling and photography came the aforementioned nine years at the BBC where he specialised in internet technologies and video. These days his primary interests are Java, Linux, videogames and pies - and if they're not candidates for convergence, then what is?