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Embedded Systems September 2000 Vol13_10

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Okay, so if the free software model is so great, how does somebody practice it in a way that feeds a family? Embedded Linux is bogus Thanks, Niall , for sayi ng that. But se1;ously, we've seen all this before, with Windows CE, with J ava, and countl ess ideas before th em, including C. One would think th at we would have learned to tune this stu ff out already. Embedded Linux is clearly a great idea in some ituations, and a lousy choice in others. We' re hearing so much about it now because some are trying to find an alternate means to market dominance than by the sim- pl est, most obvious way: being better than the alternatives. This tends to happen when th e ratio of investment capital to good sense is what it is right now. As with all previous examples, in anothe r six months or so Embedded Linux will assume its proper place alongside, and not in place of, other tools developers can use to solve prob- lems. Until then, we' ll just have to suffer through th e nonnal progre - sion of th ings. The cost of free software To the casual observer, free oftware can legally be had at no cost. But to the hardcore embedded users who need to tailor products before use, the cost of free software can't be ignored. In my own experience, it is often about the same cost to download, learn, adapt, and use for the first Lime a free utilit)' like newlib (a C runtime li brary)B as to purchase a similar com- mercial offering. So why do I bother? First, note that I didn't include the "learn, adapt, and use" steps for the commercial offerin g. Those steps are often still necessary, and in many case made more difficult by a lack of source code or experi- enced use r community to consult for help. Second, with open source software, the setup cost isn ' t repeated when 1 change processors or architectures, because free software tends to be more port:.o1.ble than commercial equiv- alents. So the time spent up front is really an investment that pays divi- dends on the next proj ect. And fin ally, the only way to make sure that future newlibs will be avail- able is by showing an interest in the current one. That isn't always enough, but it is certainly a start. And when that's all you can offer, it's clearly bet- te r than nothing, and the true free software communit)' will be grateful for it. Making money Okay, so if the free software model is so great, how does somebody practice it in a way that feeds a family? Here's my recipe. First, your current employer-who wants you to perform a software technology se1 ·vice, say, develop an application. Embedded or otherwise, free or not, isn 't important yet. Second, gain the client's approval to build the product using free soft- ware. The product itself isn 't requjred to be free for this step to work, but keep in mind that certain free soft- ware can only be used to construct free sofl:\vare. Check licenses carefully. ext, build the product. Avoid skipping this ste p. Finally, repeat this process starting at the first step, using your new skills as a developer of similar applications, and/ or as someone shl lled in tailoring and using the tool that went into the product. Season to taste. This approach is working for me, anyway. Free software The truth is th at the free software movement is a long overdue course correction that reverses the software technology industry's progression 92 SEPTEMBER 2000 Embedded Systems Programming towards a state that holds the rights of sofl:\vare vendors in higher rega rd than the rights of software consumers. Furthermore, products of the free software movement provide models that demonstrate how software should be designed, managed, and marketed in the coming years. By my count, that's two heaping help ings of positive change. All for the price of, well , free software. References 1. www.sourcegear.com/CVS 2. samba.org.auliitterbug 3. sourceforge.org 4. source ware. cygnus. com/ elix 5. www.coda.cs.cmu.edu 6. www.mosix.cs.huii.ac.i/ 7. www.lart.tudelft.ni 8. sourceware.cynus.comlnewlib The Last Word find someone-hopefully Niall Murphy responds M1·. Gatliff has made some good poin ts about the contribution that open source has made. However, I remain unswayed in my thoughts on its prospects for the future. In star t- ing his a rgument with an analogy of car dealerships, he points out that th e dealership mode l makes it difficult fo r the small corner garage to com- pete. This model is not in the best interests of consume rs, but it is in the best in terests of the large dealerships. Surely the poin t that should be derived from this is that big busin ess serves consumer inte rest less well , and sin ce open so urce has now become big business, we are not going to see them work to th e advan- tage of the small guy as much as in the past. One of the examples Mr. Gatliff uses for the future prospects of embedded Linux is the prospect of a common API for reduced versions of Linux. If Red Hat is the only player in the EL/ IX game, then EL/ IX has nothing to offer, since no one else is

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