AUSTIN, Texas The momentum behind Linux, the open-source operating system, is attracting the attention of the test, measurement and control world.
Picking up on rising customer interest, particularly from the research community, National Instruments has put together a number of instrument control solutions for Linux, the latest being for VME and VXI control, which National calls the first of its kind.
"We like to jump into an area when we see a lot of requests," said Carsten Puls, instrument control product manager at National, "so we're expanding our Linux-compatible products, which started as a grass-roots effort on the part of our own programmers."
VME and VXI are popular standards for modular automated instrumentation. Found mainly on production lines and in military applications, they are also used by engineers and scientists for a variety of benchtop, research and other test applications.
With National's new capabilities, the most important of which are the drivers buried in the company's NI-VXI/VISA bus-interface software (an $8,995 product), engineers and scientists now can program applications in Linux using LabView, National's ubiquitous test-development environment, which means Linux has quietly penetrated key test areas.
"A lot of people are drawn to Linux because it's open source and the GUIs [graphical user interfaces] that have been built on top of it are similar to Windows, but also because it's a reliable, viable alternative to Microsoft," Puls said.
Although Linux is a minuscule part of test and measurement at the moment, Puls said it holds great potential. "If it does well in the larger commercial arena, if it becomes popular with servers and a mainstream technology, then the test industry will leverage it," he said. "But Windows will remain dominant for quite some time, given the massive installed base and driver support for specific plug-in cards."
But Linux could make its mark in the embedded world. A conference in Europe last year centered on the possibilities of embedded and real-time Linux, and Puls acknowledged that "we've done some things in that area, as have others, that could draw Linux into embedded systems. There are a lot of possibilities."
For those using VXI-based test systems, Linux now runs on National's VXIpc-870 Series, the company's fastest embedded controller, and MXI-2, a high-performance communications link for interconnecting desktop PCs with VXI/VME instruments and devices.
The controller actually is an advanced PC packaged in a two-slot C-sized module that's built around Slot I Pentium II and Pentium III microprocessors. Also included are a standard floppy drive, CD-ROM, Ultra DMA 33 hard drive, Intel's latest chip set, proprietary ASICs and a bunch of peripherals.
Puls said that for hardware products, such as a GPIB interface or embedded controller, Linux compatibility is achieved "by setting software drivers in place, then porting the NI-VXI/VISA software to support Linux and packaging it in a kit with the hardware. The LabView Linux port is a bit more involved because it's a complete applications development environment, but LabView originally was written as a cross-platform capability."