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RE (tilly) (6): why i may have to leave perl...

by tilly (Archbishop)
on Nov 09, 2000 at 23:46 UTC ( #40792=note: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

in reply to (jcwren) RE: (4): why i may have to leave perl...
in thread why i may have to leave perl...

Choose the right tool for the job.

Linux works in a lot of the embedded market, but certainly not all. It sounds to me like you have done your research and found it didn't fit for you. However over time I think you will first of all find that the minimum requirements for embedded Linux will fall a little more, and the fixed cost of meeting those requirements will fall a lot more.

Therefore even though you are not choosing it now, you have every reason to believe that in a couple of years you would be likely to make the opposite decision. And that raises a couple of very interesting issues.

First of all Linux support. Anecdotal evidence is that technical support for Linux is very good. There is reason to believe that it will get better since as the embedded market matures that will be all that really differentiates the vendors.

Second of all what is the future of vxWorks et al? You are depending upon support for them. But Linux is looking to eat away their current revenue base, and you have to ask questions about what new markets they have. History says that when companies run into financial crunches, they tend to start trying to cut back and quality suffers. I don't mean to spread FUD here, but think about what timeline you expect to need support over and whether you think that the vendor you are dealing with will be able to give that support. This is a sad decision that you need to make quite often in software and in business in general.

Thirdly there is a lot of misunderstanding about the entire, "You can fix problems yourself" facet of Open Source. Yes, you can theoretically fix problems yourself. That doesn't mean that you should. As Bob Young likes to comment, buying proprietary software is like buying a car with the hood welded shut. We buy cars with hoods that are not welded shut. There are a lot of good reasons to do so. One of the best is that we then get a competitive market in auto-mechanics. And in fact companies like LinuxCare are willing to take contracts to fix problems in open-source software. (Specifically in the Linux kernel.)

Now I don't say that after all of this you will decide on Linux. In fact in your case you may well not. But long-term, for a fixed need, betting against Linux in the embedded space is IMNSHO stupid. However short-term, for a fixed use, it may well be insane to go with Linux.

History shows that in computers, the commodity wins. History also shows that in computers, the commodity is often not the best choice to make at a given point in time. :-)

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(jcwren) Re: (bunchas): why i may have to leave perl...
by jcwren (Prior) on Nov 10, 2000 at 00:15 UTC
    I agree that Linux will probably become more and more viable for smaller platforms, in the future. This can really only achieved by better modularization of various components. Most embedded OS kernels are highly modularized, down to 'Do you want threads or not', or 'Does the PPP include auto-dialing' levels.

    This is where Linux is behind, at the moment. BlueCat and etLinux are steps in the right direction. And believe me, I would *love* to run an embedded Linux kernel on this project. I have no qualms about developing under it. But this is where these kernels excel, is that they've become very tuned over the years. LynxOS (from LynuxWorks) claims that a minimal (non-TCP stacked) kernel can run in 33K. I built a minimal BlueCat kernel, and it wouldn't boot in 2MB (kernel went through signon, but somewhere near the last step, it just has a seizure, and doesn't indicate why. Feeding it more memory solved the problem.)

    You're also correct that I can buy service contracts through third party shops. However, the cost of this option is moderately comparable to the recurring support contracts that Microware, WindRiver and others charge. If you are talking to a customer, it's easier to tell them that "Yes, we get the OS, support, and licenses, etc all from the same company.", rather than "Well, we go here for this, there for that, another over yonder to do something else." Customers, as a rule, like cohesive solutions.

    There are several dozen embedded OS vendors in the market (Kadak, Treck, Microware, WindRiver, pSOS, many more). All have different capabilities, marketing strageties, and cost/performance curves. Some will inevitably go out of business. One could argue that if the embedded Linux distro that you're dependent on stops being supported, you're in a similiar (but not as bad) situation. My solution has been in the past to write into the contract that we get full rights to any products we buy, should the company go out of business. We had to cancel one contract with an OS vendor at the last minute because of a failure to agree to escrowing it. Linux, of course, really doesn't have this problem, but if you're reliant on the support for the distro, you have to figure out what it takes to port to some other release, and how customized the kernel and everything is. There are less hassles, legally, involved, but it's a time sink any time you have to deal with this crud.

    I consider it unlikely that many of the larger OS vendors will go out of business anytime soon. One of the reasons for that is platform diversity. Linux runs on far fewer platforms (at the moment) than OS/9 does, for example. Also, the knowledge base built into those companies, as far as embedded systems goes, is phenominal. I would have to speculate that most shops that are supporting embedded Linux have a smaller knowledge base regarding embedded system support (not skills, tho) than Microware does (who's been doing this for over 15 years).

    So no, I'm not going to bet against Linux in any way imaginable. I'm disappointed, if anything, that we won't be using it on this project. But I'm not betting on Microware, WindRiver, or pSOS blowing away anytime soon, either.


    e-mail jcwren

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