Wind River buys real-time Linux technology

One of the oldest real-time Linux strategies gets a major backer

Embedded OS and tools vendor Wind River Systems announced Tuesday that it is acquiring the RTLinux patents, copyrights, and trademarks of pioneering embedded Linux firm FSMLabs. Wind River will also assume FSMLabs' RTLinux customer relationships in the embedded systems market.

In a patented approach to OS design, RTLinux runs Linux itself as the lowest-priority task on a simplified real-time operating system. The design allows for developers to design systems that have real-time support only for the hardware that needs it, while running the rest of the system under conventional Linux. FSMLabs has been in business since 1996, and its customers include Blue Mountain Avionics, Samsung Heavy Industries, and Curtiss-Wright Controls.

"The majority of FSMLabs customers seem to be in aerospace and defense, which is a new market for us," said Glenn Seiler, Director, Linux Platforms for Wind River. None of Wind River's current Linux customers are using RTLinux, Seiler says. RTLinux allows for tighter real-time committments than standard Linux, even with Linux's relatively new low-latency or preemption features enabled.

FSMLabs and Infineon Technologies announced a single-core cell phone prototype last year. RTLinux can help Linux extend its range in mobile phones downward from "Smartphone" products with separate processors for communications protocols and applications to the less expensive "featurephone" market, Seiler said. "Featurephones" need to use one processor for both applications and communications, and require an OS with more stringent real-time guarantees.

Wind River plans to continue the FSMLabs Open Patent License policy, Seiler said. The policy allows developers to implement the company's RTLinux patent in software covered by the GNU General Public License. Non-GPL users must pay to license the patent, US Patent 5,995,745, which will expire in 2017.

RTLinux brings challenges for Wind River's tools business, since the device driver to support a hardware device under RTLinux is different from the standard Linux driver. Both types of drivers can co-exist on the same product, as when a system uses a real-time driver for data acquisition hardware then a standard Linux driver to store the data on a hard drive. While this approach can reduce the cost of supporting new hardware, Wind River's Workbench tools currently support only standard Linux and the company's proprietary VxWorks operating system.

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