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MontaVista Linux rebuilds around top SoCs

May 11, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive

MontaVista announced a new version of its embedded Linux development platform, now offered in separate packages for major system-on-chips. In addition to providing “Market Specific Distributions” for Intel, Freescale, and Texas Instruments SoCs, MontaVista Linux 6 adds a new build engine and content server, plus an upgraded DevRocket IDE.

MontaVista Linux 6 is the first major revision of the pioneering embedded Linux firm's core software in two years, when it unveiled MontaVista Linux Professional Edition Version 5.0. That release focused on core technical issues such as reducing footprint, improving real-time performance, and lowering resource usage. The new release primarily tackles larger structural issues surrounding the supply chain between open source code and finished product. The product is initially offered in versions tailored for major system-on-chip (SoC) families including Intel's Atom, Texas Instruments' OMAP35xx, and Freescale's i.MX and PowerQUICC.

Major new MontaVista Linux 6 features include:

  • Market Specific Distributions (MSDs) — MontaVista Linux is now available in different MSD packages customized for major SoCs. Built on a common framework, and optimized for specific hardware platforms and target markets, the MSDs are said to be feature compatible with the semiconductor vendors' Linux technology. Each MSD can be expanded with common MontaVista tools and additional open source technology. Initial versions are offered for the following SoCs:
    • Intel's Atom, compatible with Moblin
    • Freescale PowerQUICC II Pro, PowerQUICC III, and QorIQ (PowerPC); and i.MX (ARM and ARM Cortex-A8)
    • Texas Instruments OMAP35xx (ARM Cortex-A8)

  • MontaVista Integration Platform — This new bitbake build engine provides standard recipe file formats to customize kernel, device drivers, libraries, and applications, says MontaVista. Built on standard open source technology and incorporating a command-line interface, the Integration Platform enables developers to fetch and integrate code from other team members, outside vendors, or the open source community, says the company. Developers can build all target-installed software from source, and then either create multiple, reproducible build configurations, or perform incremental builds as required.
  • MontaVista Zone Content Server — This new, centralized database delivers source code and other content “dynamically” to the Integration Platform. Developers can then identify changes, updates, and dependencies in the code using the Integration Platform.
  • MontaVista DevRocket 6 — This upgraded version of the Eclipse-based DevRocket integrated development environment (IDE) works with the Integration Platform, offering tools for debugging, development, and system profiling, including C/C++ compilers, run-time libraries, and a source- and assembly-level debugger. Other features are said to include performance monitoring tools for profiling, memory leak detection, memory usage analysis and system, and application level tracing.


MontaVista Linux 6 simplified architecture diagram

By being able to choose from different SoC-specific versions of MontaVista, developers receive a more focused product that requires less winnowing down of features and options, says the company. More importantly, developers who have already started out with a particular SoC distribution will find it easier to move to the richer tools that are typically available with a commercial distribution like MontaVista.

Climbing out of the stovepipe

According to Joerg Bertholdt, MontaVista VP of marketing, the reorganization of the product along MSD lines stems from the trend toward semiconductor manufacturers offering increasingly sophisticated support distributions. Whereas in the past, developers have typically chosen between a DIY approach and all-in-one commercial packages, they are more likely now to use the chip vendors' products.

While the chip distributions are improving in quality, said Bertholdt, they still tend to be rough around the edges, and the tools are often incomplete. What's more, they differ vastly from one another, sometimes even between SoCs sold by the same vendor. As a result, it's hard to switch between SoCs, let alone move to a commercial distribution.

“Once you're on one track, you're stove-piped — it's hard to switch to something else,” said Bertholdt, in an interview. “There's an enormous amount of waste and rework and redundancy, and it's hard to leverage anything you've done in a previous project.”

By incorporating the semiconductor distributions, and building common tools and components around them that are often shared between SoC architectures, MontaVista Linux 6 helps to “align the supply chain,” said Bertholdt. “The core Linux technology will be provided by the semiconductor manufacturer,” he continued. “They have all the incentive to do so to differentiate their products. However, they are not in the business of providing a full software development product. We are building on top of what the supply chain provides us, adding value from a feature perspective.”

The new MontaVista also comes with some licensing changes, explained Bertholdt. “In place of an all you can eat subscription model, the company will charge on a “per-MSD” basis, and then have a separate per developer fee for the SDK,” he said.


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Bye, bye Mobilinux

While moving to a more modular approach, MontaVista Linux 6 is also integrating various application-specific versions, said Brad Dixon, director of product management. For example, Mobilinux, a version of MontaVista Pro designed for mobile phones such as Motorola's RAZR V8 (pictured), will be folded back into the core MontaVista Linux 6 product — or rather, products. The same goes for MontaVista Linux Carrier Grade Edition (CGE), which targets networking equipment, and which will no longer be upgraded separately. However, MontaVista will continue to offer product branding around the CGE name, at least for the near future, said Dixon, in order to emphasize support for Carrier Grade Linux (CGL) 4.0 and other networking specifications.

Another possible exception to assimilation, at least for now, is the upcoming Montabello stack. Based on Mobilinux, Montabello is targeted at mobile Internet devices (MIDs) running TI's ARM Cortex-A8-based OMAP35xx SoCs, which are also targeted by one of the new MSDs. Some MSDs may also split off different MSD versions in cases where a single SoC is being used for vastly different applications, suggested Dixon. For example, an MSD might be offered in slightly different packages depending on whether the project is a netbook or an automotive infotainment system.

Application integration, architectural diversification

By folding in its verticals, MontaVista is following the lead of rival Wind River Linux 3.0, which did the same with its recently announced Wind River Linux 3.0. The latest version integrates within a single product platforms such as Wind River Platform for Network Equipment (PNE), as well as other Wind River verticals including consumer electronics, industrial devices, and server appliances platforms.

While integrating its own verticals, MontaVista is also diversifying its software by tailoring it for each SoC design. And this radical shift is exactly what device manufacturers and semiconductor companies have been looking for, said Dixon.

First, with an MSD, developers won't have to sort through unnecessary features that aren't targeted at that specific submarket, said Dixon. More importantly, he added, it's much easier to switch between SoC architectures because the Integration Platform, Content Server, IDE, and key features, are common across all platforms.

The Integration Platform enables developers to more easily customize enhancements and patches, said Dixon. “There are two ways people use commercial Linux distributions like MontaVista,” he explained. “A top-down approach where you winnow down features, which is more popular in the carrier space, and then a bottom-up approach where you start with minimal software, and then add components incrementally. Our Integration Platform is more adept at the bottom-up approach. We use a command-line interface, which is not sexy, but for components used in daily build environments, it is very important. We also offer DevRocket on top of this for those who want more of a GUI environment.”

Using a semiconductor distribution, this sort of integration work typically requires a lot of time writing a scripts, he added. “Usually there's only one person who knows how to update and maintain those scripts,” said Dixon. “In contrast, the Integration Platform maintains separate orthogonal changes to underlying source code. It can build multiple product configurations for related products.”

In — or out — of the Zone

Meanwhile, the Zone Content Server, located on MontaVista's existing Zone developers site, is designed to “feed the Integration Platform with prebuilt binaries,” said Dixon. “It provides all the updates and patches, even when the source web sites change. Customers don't have to go hunting for source code, or try to mirror things locally. The Zone Content Server mirrors the source code, and keeps it up to date.”

In some ways, the tandem of the Integration Platform and Content Server is similar to the hosted “Factory” build approach by Timesys's new LinuxLink 3.0 version of its DIY subscription service. The difference with MontaVista Linux 6 is that while the content is offered up over a central server, the build is local, explained Dixon.

“Hosted builds are intriguing, but customers measure themselves on — if I had to cut cord to the net tomorrow, could I still get my work done?” said Dixon. “Our Content Server offers reliable source, but customers don't need to grow dependent on it.”

Stated Jim Ready, CTO and Founder of MontaVista, “Customers are often forced to make a difficult decision on which Linux technology to start a project with: open source, their semiconductor partner's Linux technology, or a commercial distribution. That decision always involves making compromises and can be difficult to move away from once development has begun. With the release of MontaVista Linux 6, we are taking a huge step forward in aligning the Linux supply chain.”

Availability

MontaVista Linux 6 is in use by beta customers today, says MontaVista, and will be generally available in July. For more information may be found here.


 
This article was originally published on LinuxDevices.com 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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