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QNX goes “Linux-like”

Apr 18, 2000 — by Rick Lehrbaum — from the LinuxDevices Archive
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QNX Software Systems (Ottawa, ONTARIO) has unveiled an aggressive strategy to adapt to the growing presence of Linux in the embedded market. The QNX strategy lies not in working against Linux, but rather in hitching the company's fortunes to the Linux train — in a manner of speaking.

It's interesting to note that QNX Software Systems was, after all, one of the first and most successful companies to have come up with a “UNIX-like” RTOS capable of use in mission critical embedded applications. Now, with Linux (not UNIX) rapidly emerging as a highly popular embedded system operating system, the company is scrambling to recast its popular QNX RTOS as “Linux-like.” The new QNX initiative consists of several key elements . . .

  • In recognition of the ease with which developers can obtain and begin development with Linux, QNX has decided to make their new QNX Realtime Platform free “for non-commercial use”. Developers can now download the software and its associated development directly from the QNX website.

  • In response to the growing desire for source code that has resulted from the exploding popularity of open-source Linux, QNX will soon release the source code for many QNX applications, drivers, and libraries. Source to the QNX kernel, however, will not be made available.

  • The company has also launched a self-supporting QNX developer's network website, to encourage development of a growing QNX user and developer community.

  • To smooth the path of moving applications from Linux to QNX as well as make QNX more developer-friendly, the company has integrated a high degree of Linux compatibility into its new QNX platform. According to QNX CEO Gordon Bell, “Linux developers can (now) be immediately productive in the QNX environment. Better yet, most Linux applications can port easily.” Additionally, the company is porting lxrun, an open-source program that allows UNIX and POSIX-based OSes to efficiently run Linux binaries, to QNX. There's also a plan to offer cross-development tools for Linux-hosted QNX development.
Bold strategy

Clearly, the strategy is aimed at encouraging embedded system developers to take advantage of the enormous and rapidly growing pool of Linux technology and know-how — but to build their products on the QNX platform which the company calls a “reliable, market-proven real-time operating system,” rather than on Linux itself. Gordon Bell, president of QNX, has high hopes for the success of his company's latest initiative. “Our goal is simple,” says Bell. “We want the QNX platform to run in one third of the over 400 million e-devices that, according to market analysts, will ship in 2003.”

“To achieve that,” adds Bell, “QNX is offering something unique: a solution that combines the reliability and efficiency of a true RTOS with all the advantages of a true 'platform OS' — low cost of entry, significantly higher productivity, and APIs familiar to a huge community of developers. Plus, QNX will provide something that no other platform OS can: 20 years' experience serving e-device developers.”

Developing a developer community

To encourage the growth of a large and self-sustaining developer community, QNX plans to implement several new user support programs, including: an ISV program that gives ISVs commercial access to QNX tools at low cost; a variety of incentives to encourage developers to port or create new QNX technology; and a new program called “Get QNX,” which grants developers free access to the QNX Realtime Platform (for “noncommercial use”).

In addition, to support the thousands of new developers QNX hopes to attract with the new initiatives, the company is deploying a new web-based QNX Developer's Network (QDN). The goal of QDN is to allow users to tap into a range of support services — including newsgroups, FAQs, tech-notes, upgrades, free software, plus a knowledge base with answers to thousands of technical questions.

“Accessible Source”

In response to the growing hunger among developers for access to software source, QNX has developed an alternative to open-source licensing that the company calls “accessible source.” According to QNX literature, “the intent of this model is deliver many of the benefits of an open-source OS, while enabling e-device developers to maximize system security and maintain ownership of their intellectual property (IP).”

Obviously, QNX is attempting to rationalize their desire to keep the innards of their proprietary — and finely tuned — Neutrino microkernel secret, and free from what they perceive as the uncontrolled and uncontrollable world of open-source software evolution. An key aspect of the company's strategy to market this approach is to create a perception that an open source kernel is not just unnecessary, it's both undesired and undesirable. Quoting the company's marketing literature:

    “While e-device builders see the productivity benefits of open source, most have serious concerns about using open-source OS code in their products, citing threats to security, reliability, and potential loss of intellectual property due to GPL licensing. The QNX Realtime Platform addresses these concerns through an 'accessible source' model, where source code is publicly available for most modules, but not for those core components critical to the overall quality, security, and reliability of the OS.”

    Gordon Bell adds, “Open-source kernel code may have its advantages, but, for the majority of e-devices, it's the wrong model.” “Rather than burden embedded teams with the time-consuming-and-expensive-task of modifying and maintaining kernel code,” continues Bell, “we offer a more productive approach: an OS architecture that can be extended using application-level tools and developers. It's friendlier, faster, more cost effective — and much more reliable.”

In defense of Linux, there's a flaw in Bell's logic centered around the assertion that having source to the Linux kernel automatically necessitates modifying it. Discarding that unreasonable assumption, the “time-consuming-and-expensive-task of modifying and maintaining kernel code” cannot be considered a legitimate disadvantage of using Linux.

Flawed, too, is the argument that companies who embed Linux and other GPL components in their products will lose the ability to protect their own proprietary intellectual property (IP). This obviously specious argument is commonly used by proprietary OS vendors as a “FUD” (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) tactic in attacking Linux. Though there are indeed restrictions that apply to modified GPL software, a careful reading of the actual terms of the GPL license (see article) should assuage fears relative to protecting IP.

Where do we go from here?

With its many years of experience and deep expertise in supporting both the UNIX API and POSIX compatibility in the context of real-time systems, there's no doubt that QNX possesses a strong basis from which to posture itself to be a major supplier of RTOS software for embedded devices and intelligent appliances. Some significant QNX strengths include an efficient microkernel architecture, strong fault protection mechanisms (protecting both kernel/OS functions and user processes), and a highly developed distributed message passing architecture.

It's especially interesting to note that QNX Software Systems recently joined the newly formed Embedded Linux Consortium as a founding member, and is posturing itself as a friend and supporter of Linux — or, at least, of Linux-oriented technologies. QNX apparently intends to be an active participant in any embedded and real-time Linux standards efforts that may develop, and also as a contributor to the open source utilities and tools support for Linux. But make no mistake about one thing: QNX support for Linux is, in reality, support for the “Linux API” — not for the kernel itself — just as they have in the past supported the UNIX and POSIX API's.

Does QNX see Linux as a competing OS? Here's how QNX answers that question, as published in their document entitled “the Linux FAQ”:

    “QNX and Linux share a lot of synergy. In fact, by popularizing the POSIX APIs that QNX embraced over 10 years ago, Linux has actually helped QNX gain more acceptance among OEMs and ISVs. So it's in QNX's interest to see the Linux community grow and flourish. Because QNX and Linux are so compatible, code from Linux projects can be used on QNX, and vice versa. As a result, QNX enables Linux developers to bring their expertise and code investment into the embedded space. Likewise, Linux provides QNX developers with an additional market in which to sell their applications and expertise. In short, the QNX and Linux OSes complement each other and strengthen each other's value to the embedded market. It's also important to remember that the embedded market is huge — and that different embedded developers have dramatically different OS requirements. There's plenty of room for both QNX and Linux, with their different advantages and approaches to IP ownership.”
Availability

QNX is inviting developers to pre-register for their copy of the QNX Realtime Platform, at get.qnx.com. The platform will be made available in May to selected developers and to all registered attendees of the QNX2000 International Technology Conference (May 14 to 17). The general public will be able to download the platform in midsummer.

About QNX Software Systems (www.qnx.com)

Founded in 1980, QNX Software Systems is a leader in realtime, microkernel OS technology. The company has established a strong customer base in a variety of industries, including telecommunications, consumer electronics, transportation, medical instrumentation, process control, point-of-sale, and telephony. QNX products are distributed in over 100 countries worldwide.

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This article was originally published on LinuxDevices and has been donated to the open source community by QuinStreet Inc. Please visit LinuxToday.com for up-to-date news and articles about Linux and open source.

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