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Linux and Open Source Solutions for Embedded Systems

Linux and Open Source Solutions for Embedded Systems

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS)

Mind uses Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) for most of its solutions. The two main classes of FLOSS licenses, the GPL-style and BSD-style licenses are discussed in detail on the license page on this site.

Advantages

No vendor lock-in

FLOSS gives us the absolute guarantee that we and our customers are fully in control of our systems and that we are never the hostage of a single supplier. This is extremely important to avoid vendor lock-in or the costly rat race to keep up with each new version of a closed source operating system and/or application software.

Performance

Most FLOSS programs (Operating Systems and Applications) are very performant and can be operational on less costly (older or smaller) hardware, often completely avoiding the need to upgrade hardware when upgrading software versions.

Stability

UNIX systems are well known for very good stability. Most Free/Libre and Open Source software is written using the UNIX paradigm. Also, due to the "many eyeballs" scenario, bugs in the software can be found by anyone and reported on the maintainers mailing list. This process allows code maintainers to address the problem in a timely fashion and provide fixes in the form of software patches. After careful review by the maintainers and developers, such patch may be implemented in the standard version of the software.

Security

A number of mature Free Software applications have a remarkable level of security. Major security bugs only pop up with an average interval of many months up to many years. If such a security bug is published for an important application, a patch is typically available within hours or days. Certain applications such as Qmail have not had major security problems for many years. The availability of the source code, makes users of FLOSS software more aware of the details of operation and this can lead to a better understanding of what exactly is going on. This deeper insight helps strongly in improving the security of systems these people set up.

Free of license cost

The FLOSS licenses grant every user a free license to use the program without further limitations (and without a fee). For embedded devices, the per unit royalty cost of the SW is sometimes a large element in the total system cost and every dollar of saved royalties costs helps to keep the per unit cost as low as possible. This element of per system cost is also important in desktop systems, where the typical commercial OS and productivity SW is currently more expensive than the hardware.
An important side effect of charging for the license on closed source software is the significant hidden cost in administrative overhead to buy the program and waiting for the program to arrive. In the case of FLOSS software, the developer or user can speed up this process by downloading the required application and setting it up, typically in under a day. For this reason, Open Source software is often present in an organization, even if there is no official policy for "buying" Open Source software.

Flexibility and adaptability

In a development environment it is crucial to be able to make small or large modifications to customize the program for local use. Also, being able to solve certain important bugs immediately, without waiting for an official patch or next version from the supplier, is crucial for progress in a development environment.

Ease of use

We find FLOSS software very easy to use in our environment. We admit that the learning curve is steeper when you are on your own. In our environment, every function, including desktop, sales and administration, is performed using FLOSS software. This is all possible without a steep learning curve for the users, but it does require some support and minimal training from experienced FLOSS software users in the company.

Long life time

Due to the adaptability, the solutions have a much longer life time. It is possible to expand the software for new requirements, without being forced to buy a new version, or finding yourself stuck with a version that is not longer supported. Much Free Software has been in use for over 20 years and still perfectly fits for the application (e.g Latex, sendmail, gcc, gdb, ...)

Support of Open Standards and Formats

Even more important for long life time of documents and applications is the availability of all documents and wire protocols in Open, published Standard Formats. In this way all documents and interfacing (also e.g. with governments) can be executed without the requirement of any specific software available from only a specific vendor. Using Open Standards, the government can supply to its inhabitants free versions of software to read and create documents, that are fully under its control and under review from public rights organizations. In different European countries, there is legislation under way to enforce the use of Open Standards. An inherent advantage of Open Source software is that the input and output formats are obviously known. For embedded devices, the consequence is that all communication protocols are effectively Open and documented, since the source code of the implementation is available.

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