By Jason Kridner, Texas Instruments
dspdesignline.com (November 05, 2008)
As the primary gateway to voice calls, Internet browsing, audio and video applications, and imaging display, demand for consumer electronics are naturally increasing. Specifically, there is a need for more choices in hardware features, software applications and innovative user interfaces (UI) packaged together in portable devices that are customized in various shapes and colors. To meet this growing demand, consumer electronics manufacturers look to open source software and hardware platforms that allow unbarred innovation. In this article, we'll examine why and how manufacturers engage with the open source community, where open source Linux is and isn't succeeding, and how Texas Instruments Incorporated (TI) is participating in various open source projects and organizations, including Google's Open Handset Alliance (OHA). The move to open source
The move to open source in consumer electronics is driven by fundamental changes in embedded components such as system-on-chips (SoC), processors and embedded devices, which we'll define here as any programmable electronic other than a personal computer (PC).
One fundamental change, driven mainly by silicon manufacturing and architecture advances, rests in the fact that the performance of embedded devices is within reach of our desktops. This allows embedded devices to run the same or highly similar fundamental operating systems (OS) and graphical user interface (GUI) toolkits as desktops. This has made embedded platforms accessible to large numbers of developers resulting in the boom of embedded software innovations we're beginning to see. Applications that previously were only available on desktops are now smaller and cheaper, and can easily be customized and integrated onto the smaller, embedded devices consumers crave.
While embedded devices are almost starting to look and act like mini PC's, they also leave behind much of the fundamental OSes associated with traditional desktops. With PCs, users expect decades of legacy, proprietary software to work—keeping them locked into the same basic OSes and UIs to access information. In the rapidly-evolving consumer electronics market, however, consumers do not have much, if any, legacy software, and they're continually introduced to new, innovative UIs and ways to personalize their applications, which increases their popularity in the market.
To meet the rising demand for open source software and hardware, vendors often support consumer electronics manufacturers by offering the driver support for open source applications. For instance, several silicon vendors, including TI, offer Linux board support packages (BSP) for embedded devices targeting consumer electronics. These BSPs provide manufacturers the fundamental tools to utilize open source software without being constrained by excessive legacy software, enabling them to pick and choose the building blocks for their solution.
Another fundamental change is the rising complexity in embedded applications. In the past, building an embedded product from the start was easy. Anyone could get a small real-time operating system (RTOS), read a book on how to build up a microscheduling kernel, write the UI code and essentially design the entire platform. However, each of these layers is becoming more complex in today's market, and building a product from concept is simply too expensive. Development teams can buy a solution, but system-level complexity makes this complicated unless they are part of a broader hardware/software ecosystem. This obstacle causes consumer electronic manufacturers to consider open source solutions, where they can mitigate complexity and leverage the work of other contributors.
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