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Embedded Linux for IAs

Hong Kong-based EmSoft Ltd, developer of embedded software solutions, has found a niche in providing appliance manufacturers with the technology to transform their products into Internet appliances (IA).

EmSoft specializes in embedded software, a distinct advantage to the end-user in terms of speed and convenience. Unlike non-embedded (conventional) software, which must be loaded at each boot or whenever an application is started, embedded software is ready to use on power up. It requires no loading, there are no program exit procedures to follow, and there are no maintenance requirements.

eHomeTV’s Internet television, a standard television set offering Internet and e-mail access, is one example of an IA produced in collaboration with EmSoft. Internet functionality is achieved using EmSoft’s EmLinux, a scaled-down, embedded version of the Linux operating system, running on Cirrus Logic’s 7500 embedded processor. All components, including a standard telephone jack, are mounted onto one card.

EmLinux is based on the 2.4 version of the Linux kernel. EmSoft has removed many unnecessary features and unwanted lines of software code from the full version to enable developers to create the smallest possible software footprint for embedded devices. The small size of EmLinux enables developers to create devices that require less hardware.

The InternetTV was launched in January this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. “With eHomeTV having early mover advantage,” said Richard Tseng, CEO of EmSoft Ltd, “we expect a host of other manufacturers from Asia and elsewhere to follow quickly with similar products.”

EmSoft’s main customers are Asian-based manufacturers of IA products such as MP3 players, GPS terminals, video phones, security cameras and radios.

EmLinux’s small size allows it to be easily ported to systems with low-cost microcontrollers and limited RAM and ROM. It has already been ported to personal digital assistants (PDA). Cirrus Logic’s embedded processors are used because of their small size and low power consumption.

Another EmSoft product is EmGTK, a GUI application toolkit for embedded applications. Developers can use EmGTK to develop and test embedded GUI applications on a familiar Linux PC platform, and also to access the vast library of GTK+ applications, which can be ported to embedded devices.

EmBrowser, a Web-browser for use with PDA, Web-phone, E-Book and InternetTV-IA products, provides basic browsing for PDAs with memory constraints, as well as full-featured browsing for Web-phone or E-Book-type IA products. And IA manufacturers will soon be able to add Bluetooth wireless communications to their devices using EmBluetooth, currently under development.

The Linux operating system is establishing itself with small businesses that rely on Net connections. Tseng says that the main attractions to Linux are that the source code is freely available and it is highly stable. When it comes to the manufacture of consumer IA products, says Tseng, “Linux wins hands down… it is royalty-free, well supported, and offers an impressive range of applications.”

by James Cook, Hong Kong

(February 2001 Issue, Nikkei Electronics Asia)

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