July 18, 2005

Interview: Greg Wallace on the future of embedded Linux

Author: Maria Winslow

Greg Wallace, the co-founder and chief marketing officer at Emu Software, chaired the panel on embedded Linux at last month's C3 Expo in New York. He says that Linux is the top choice among embedded developers, and, in contrast to the PC market where Wintel dominates, there are a large number of embedded system chip vendors, and a lot of competition and innovation in this space. We asked Wallace about his panel's discussion.

NewsForge: Who were the panelists?

Wallace: The panelists for this session, which was officially called The Future of Embedded Linux, were dynamite. We had Ross Rubin, Director of Consumer Electronics Industry Analysis at NPD Techworld; Dr. Stephen Edwards from the Computer Science Department at Columbia University; and Oren Teich, Director of Marketing at MontaVista. Each panelist presented for about 15 minutes, after which we took questions from the audience.

Dr. Edwards educated the audience on the challenges of designing and building embedded systems. He observed that the complexity of embedded systems is growing by over 40% per year, as measured by the average number of lines of code in embedded systems.

Rubin noted that the ability to infuse greater intelligence into consumer electronics devices with flattening or declining sales curves is a key strategy for many manufacturers to reinvigorate revenue. An example he provided is digital cameras that are leveraging embedded intelligence to do things like in-camera red-eye reduction.

Teich explained that embedded Linux offers the best compromise available between development control and functionality. On the control side of the ledger, Linux offers a modular, flexible platform, a large off-the-shelf ecosystem of hardware and middleware, and it is fully customizable -- vendors can add their own application look and feel -- and there is no proprietary lock-in. And Linux's well-known functionality is derived through the platform's maturity, scalability, and the cross-platform standardization it delivers.

NF: Did any of the panelists address the question of security?

Wallace: Not directly in their presentation, but the question was put to
the panel from the audience during Q&A. Dr. Edwards said that security is an inherent challenge with all computing systems, but by virtue of going through the open source development process, whereby lots of people work on a particular code set, Linux seems to come out at the end as more secure than popular closed-source alternatives.

NF: So, what was the key take-away?

Wallace: I think that this market is really exploding in complexity, size, and in innovation. Embedded Linux intelligence is making its way into devices as diverse as network equipment to digital cameras. I think the entrepreneurs, developers and investors that gain an understanding of what is driving this market will be extremely well positioned to gain from its growth.

NF: Can readers get copies of the slides from the panel?

Wallace: Definitely. They can send me an email at wallace@emusoftware.com and I will send them a copy.

Maria Winslow is the open source practice leader with Virtuas, where she assists clients in understanding the technical and budgetary impact open source software will have on their computing environments. She is the author of the book "The Practical Manager's Guide to Open Source."

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