Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Getting Linux from Commercial Vendors and Consultants

Commercial vendors and consultants are different from board vendors in that they make Linux solutions for several different board vendors or processor manufacturers. Chances are, the distribution being sold or supplied with the board was created by one of these consultants under a contract arrangement. There’s nothing wrong with deciding to turn a technical problem (some portion of getting Linux up and running for a target board) into a financial problem. Often, because open source software is available for the taking, people believe they can get it working for a project if the resources are available. Just like any other mutually beneficial exchange, buying from a vendor is the right choice if the product delivered is at the right price and clears your schedule for higher-valued activities.
Vendors in the commercial Linux space focus on creating Linux distributions from a functional level. Customers come to these vendors looking for higher-level features such as quick boot-time, realtime, or graphics, and expect the vendors to get these components up and running on one or more target boards being considered for the project.

Do You Need a Commercial Vendor?
Many companies that examine their budgets, time lines, and resources decide that even though Linux could be built in-house, it makes sense to purchase. The driving element behind many embedded vendors is how the companies view working with Linux: is the operating system part of the core product value?

For example, a company that creates point-of-sale (POS) terminals has core product features like the user interface that increase user productivity or improved ways of capturing signatures that require less storage. This is very different than a company that makes a network-attachable device that aids in system backup. The POS company may be almost indifferent to the operating system used in the product, and people buying their products may care even less. In this case, purchasing Linux is probably the right choice because it allows the company to focus on features that matter to its customers.

Contrast this with the storage device company, for example. This type of device is purchased by very technical people who need to integrate the device into an existing network structure; for them, knowing what operating system the device is running is essential. Some of the work done by engineering at the storage company may give it an edge over its competitors, and the company’s management may be reluctant to help those changes make their way back to the main kernel project. In this sense, Linux is a feature of the product and part of its value proposition. This company should consider building Linux from scratch in order to have the greatest amount of control over this critical aspect of the product.

Or, consider a company that builds industrial machinery. In this company, realtime performance is a requirement that must be met. Customers who purchase the machinery may program units in the field, so having an open operating system like Linux is important. This company is another candidate where contracting with a vendor that is responsible for monitoring and understanding realtime on Linux has much to offer.

Getting a Linux environment up and running can also be a research as well as an engineering project. Some products must get to market or be delivered by a certain date, and variance isn’t acceptable. In this case, going the route of getting something ready out of the box makes perfect sense, because certainty has higher value than money.

Finally, a vendor does system configuration work that can be of very high value. Some vendors specialize in certain industry hardware protocols, like CANBus, and can supply a Linux distribution that has these drivers in working order for the project.

Source of Information : Pro Linux Embedded Systems

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