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Linux digs in at embedded systems show

Linux software developers are going head to head with Microsoft at the Embedded Systems Conference.

The market for embedded systems is broadening and includes handheld computers, set-top boxes, in-car computers and industrial automation equipment but these systems have traditionally been designed in-house.

As the millions of smart computing devices in the world turn into billions, analysts say operating systems designed for particular devices are losing ground to general-purpose software that can be adapted more easily for use in different types of products.

Microsoft has retooled versions of its Windows operating system for a wide range of embedded devices; and various Linux hopefuls are building implementations of the freely available operating system to power everything from network routers to cell phones.

Linux is being promoted as a viable operating system for consumer products such as wireless PDAs and smart phones because it suits devices that have limited available memory. Linux also consumes less power than some other operating systems and developers have the flexibility of sharing Linux software code, said Stacey Quandt, an analyst for Giga Information Group

"It's not a mature market so there's a lot of potential for Linux to make inroads," she said.

Compatibility may, however, be the issue may stand in the way of its widespread Linux use in embedded systems, Many of the companies developing embedded Linux operating systems, such as Lineo, LynuxWorks, MonteVista Software TimeSys and FSM Labs, have made their applications incompatible, analysts and vendors said.

In a bid to overcome this problem the Embedded Linux Consortium (ELC), an industry group with more than 70 members including Intel and Red Hat, will unveil plans at the show to create a standard for embedded Linux systems

It is promising to create a standard set of APIs and compatibility test kits so that eventually, any Linux application will run on any Linux operating system, so long as both conform to the specifications.

"The idea is to foster a large body of software products around Linux, as you've seen happen on Windows for the desktop," said Inder Singh, chief executive officer of LynuxWorks, an embedded systems manufacturer. "The market has been so fragmented, so it never fostered the kind of software industry that you had for the desktop."

Application vendors and hardware makers will benefit from a standard embedded version of Linux, said Daya Nadamuni, an analyst with Gartner. "A standards body is really a prime mover behind developing products so that everything works together," she said "That's going to be key for the vendors."

The effort is similar to one that was launched recently to create a new version of Linux for the telecommunication market, she said.

While Linux companies will make a big splash at the conference, competing vendors looking to make headway in the industry are expected to detail their various advances in the market.

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