Embedded Linux+Java -- wave of the future?

The world of intelligent devices is changing dramatically. The computerized devices around us are getting smarter, they're increasingly connected and interdependent, and they're becoming vastly more numerous. And all this is happening at an ever increasing rate.

A fertile field for Linux . . .

As the number and variety of devices with embedded intelligence grow exponentially, the need to minimize cost and maximize specialization increases correspondingly. Hence, Embedded Linux becomes a highly desirable technology for the operating system due to its scalability, configurability, and affordability.

It's worth noting that until recently, the "cost penalty" associated with the CPU and memory resources necessary to run Linux had been a somewhat limiting factor relative to using it in cost sensitive devices. Now, however, the baseline needs of embedding Linux -- roughly 2M Flash and 4M RAM memory and a moderate speed processor (100+ MIPS?) -- have become reasonably inexpensive, thanks in large measure to Moore's Law.

. . . and Java

Although Java failed to hit the target for which it was initially developed, which was, ironically, to serve as an embedded operating system within smart devices, Java ended up providing a convenient means to enable moving applications around among computing devices -- propelled to this position by the dramatic emergence of the Web.

Today, despite its early failure as an embedded operating system, Java is showing promise in the role of providing a device-independent application platform, running on top of the embedded operating system. In this case, rather than serving as the operating system itself, Java provides the benefit of masking the unique aspects of the underlying device and providing an array of services beyond those offered by the embedded OS.

In the context of an exponential proliferation of smart devices, Java is emerging as a handy way to minimize device-specific development and allow developers to focus on the truly unique aspects of their projects. Increasingly, Java is providing a means to obtain functionality like GUIs, Web browsers, protocol stacks, handwriting and speech recognition, wireless communications, multimedia support, database management, and a wide range of remote services.

One interesting example of a product based on a combination of embedded Java+Linux is a consumer entertainment system that was recently announced by Hewlett-Packard. The HP Digital Entertainment Center is basically a home entertainment appliance that brings digital music and information via broadband and home networks into the living room -- without a PC. The system connects like an audio component to a normal home stereo system and can be used to burn custom CDs, create/store/organize MP3 files on its large internal hard disk, transfer music to digital music players, and listen to Internet radio.

"HP embraced Linux for consumer appliances because of its open source and community support," explains William Woo, General Manager of Hewlett-Packard's Embedded Software Operation. "We have customized Linux for use as an HP embedded OS and combined it with our HP Chai technology to create an embedded software solution with a Java application environment and web connectivity. HP Chai supports Java applications for delivering e-services to create a rich consumer experience."

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