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Asian embedded developers looking up to Linux

Posted: 03 Feb 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:linux? embedded platform? wireless design? emblix? nec ax 10?

Raymond Mak

VP Asia Pacific

Bill Weinberg

Director Strategic Marketing

MontaVista Software

In the last six months, embedded developers across Asia have progressed from evaluating embedded Linux to building actual applications with it. Indeed, in Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, and elsewhere are now deploying embedded Linux in applications as diverse as handheld/wireless devices, digital audio, video and television sets, and home networking, in addition to more traditional embedded systems in telecommunications, data communications, and industrial control.

As MontaVista Software has expanded its presence in Asia, we have encouraged the evolution of embedded Linux from "fad" status to a mature alternative platform for embedded development and volume deployment.

Across Asia, starting almost three years ago, manufacturers began exploring Linux as a way to cut production costs and reduce their dependency on foreign suppliers. This trend gave rise to a number of short-lived regional vendors and a large number of organic "roll-your-own" efforts in both industry and academe. On the industrial side, astute companies quickly realized that productizing Open Source software, while more cost-effective than most proprietary platforms, could also absorb significant internal engineering resources.

The first market in Asia to appreciate this trade-off, in our experience, was Japan, where consumer electronics manufacturers neither wanted to return to high-cost in-house technology efforts, nor be "slaves" to single-source platform suppliers, like Microsoft or Wind River Systems. To leverage the maximum value-addition from their own teams and from embedded Linux, Japanese companies eagerly turned to commercial Linux suppliers, and are today delivering a range of Linux-based devices, like the Sony Cocoon PVR and the NEC AX-10 Home server. Supporting the huge success of embedded Linux in Japan have also been key consortia like Emblix and the labs of member companies.

For their part, China, Korea, and Taiwan all exhibit huge momentum in adoption of Linux in the enterprise setting. Government-sponsored mandates to leverage Linux and Open Source enable and build on the ubiquitous familiarity with the OS among engineers and educators. In China and Korea, embedded networking and telecommunications infrastructure applications have been the first to embrace Linux as the platform of choice, building on its native IP networking support and enterprise software compatibility.

In all three countries, embedded client device builders are building mobile handsets, STBs, and home gateways/servers with the Open Source OS. While developers in these countries face the same buy vs. build challenge as their peers in Japan, lower local engineering costs and lower margins have slowed the progression to "buy" that we see in other parts of the globe. The balance has yet to tip away from the idea of purely "free" Linux to one provided and supported on a commercial basis.

What will ultimately draw companies across Asia to a commercial Linux is the need for risk mitigation. Even in local economies that enjoy low burdened cost per developer, companies still need to get to market quickly. In particular, Brooks' Law dictates that piling on engineering staff, even on a low cost basis, will not hasten a project to market (it will likely slow it down).

Moreover, time to market concerns also lead developers to seek more complete middleware and full software stacks, for mobile phones, VPN/gateways, security appliances, access points/hot spots, and other volume applications (especially in Taiwan) - and these solutions cost significantly less to buy from platform vendors and ISVs than to develop internally.

Each national marketplace in Asia will resolve the 'buy-against-build' question in its own fashion, but the trend towards embedded deployment with Linux is unstoppable. Intelligent device manufacturers in Asia appreciate the same virtues in Linux as do companies the world over - lower overall costs, faster time to market, and long-term control of their technology base.

MontaVista Software looks forward to accompanying and fostering this trend in the region and to providing the embedded platform that is powering an embedded revolution.

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