PARK RIDGE, ILL. Non-commercial Linux took on a decidedly commercial bent this week, as TimeSys Corp. (Pittsburgh, Pa.) unveiled a software toolset aimed at developers of "roll-your-own" Linux-based systems.
The new toolset, which supports the entire Linux development cycle, is believed to be the most comprehensive attempt yet to bring commercial software to non-commercial strains of Linux.
Analysts said that TimeSys' effort could have broad appeal to the worldwide embedded developer community, many of whom have begun to see Linux as an alternative to creating their own in-house operating systems.
"We believe there are a lot of developers out there who are using, or think of using, non-commercial Linux distributions," said Stephen Balacco, an analyst for Venture Development Corp. (Natick, Mass.). "When we look at the users of commercial Linux, we may just be seeing the tip of the iceberg. We suspect that there's a lot more non-commercial Linux use taking place below the surface."
Executives at TimeSys Corp. estimate that approximately half of all Linux users employ non-commercial versions of the open source Linux operating system. Others use commercial embedded systems made by such companies as LynuxWorks, Inc. (San Jose, Calif.), MontaVista Software, Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.), and Metrowerks Corp. (Austin, Tex.).
TimeSys hopes to tap into the non-commercial vein with this week's introductions. The company said it will roll out three major plug-ins to its existing integrated development environment (IDE), all of which are intended to support the Linux development cycle, from the initialization of new hardware, to development of the Linux kernel, to the testing and validation of the Linux operating system. The toolset includes a TimeStorm Linux Validation Suite for automated testing during the Linux development process, a TimeStorm Linux Development Suite for device driver development and kernel support, and a TimeStorm Linux Hardware Debug for hardware-assisted debugging.
The company said that by bringing out the new toolset, it is emulating the IDEs and tool support packages of established embedded vendors such as Wind River Systems Inc. (Alameda, Calif.), which offer graphical programming environments for their own commercial operating systems. Unlike those companies, however, TimeSys' new product is aimed at virtually any type of Linux-based operating system, commercial or non-commercial.
"Right now, the developers who are using non-commercial Linux operating systems need the tools to make Linux a viable alternative," noted Larry Wiedman, TimeSys chief executive officer. "Those tools just haven't been there."
Analysts agreed last week that lack of good tools for board bring-up, kernel porting, driver development, application development, and testing have hampered adoption of Linux among some potential users.
"There's no doubt that the problem with (non-commercial) Linux has been lack of good tools," said Daya Nadamuni, senior analyst for Gartner Dataquest (San Jose, Calif.). "Ever since the embedded operating systems companies came into business, they've been trying to get developers to buy off-the-shelf, but their products have been aimed at their own commercial operating systems."
By aiming a new breed of products at non-commercial Linux, industry analysts believe that vendors such as TimeSys could tap into an enormous market. Venture Developemnt Corp. estimates that there are currently 367,000 software developers worldwide. Figures from Gartner Dataquest indicate that approximately 35% of developers now "roll their own" operating systems.
Although the percentage of developers who use Linux is difficult to pin down, analysts said last week that they believe a growing contingent of "roll-your-own" developers are considering changing to Linux. Such developers, they say, would probably be inclined to create their own strain of Linux atop the non-commercial Linux kernel.
"They see their own version of Linux as an alternative to developing their own in-house system," Nadamuni said.
Still unknown, however, is whether developers who employ free software will want to pay for tools. TimeSys executives said that the TimeStorm IDE would cost $3,000 per seat, while the TimeStorm Linux Development Suite would cost $1,000 per seat and the Linux Validation Suite would cost $3,000.
TimeSys executives are betting that developers will pay the cost because the new "products address a great unmet need in the market."
Analysts said last week that such products have the potential to give Linux a boost in the embedded marketplace.
"As long as they can figure out a way to make a workable business model, then they'll accelerate the acceptance of Linux," said Paul Zorfass, senior analyst for International Data Corp./FTI (Framingham, Mass.). "They could make it more intriguing for companies to use Linux, whereas those companies may never have considered using it before."