Growth of Linux: embedded and hidden

by Andy Oram

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As we were working with Karim Yaghmour at O'Reilly on his book
Building Embedded Linux Systems,
I noted with some anxiety that companies selling embedded Linux tools
and distributions were dropping like flies. I pointed out in a
on last January's LinuxWorld that the organizers who planned a special
embedded Linux pavilion and then dropped it, apparently because there
weren't enough companies to set up booths.

Karim assured me that embedded Linux is indeed growing, taking root,
and increasingly becoming the developer's choice for 32-bit systems.
The key to understanding the phenomemon, he said, was that people are
downloading Linux and the tools on their own, and building their own
systems. They don't feel they need specialized vendors.

And now a survey by backs Karim's analysis. What they
call "home-grown" embedded Linux systems are already a large
percentage of all embedded Linux solutions, and are soon to overtake
any single commercial distribution. If you add in downloadable,
generic commercial distributions (Red Hat, Debian, etc.) the
percentage is enormous.

The survey suggests to me that the way for companies to make a buck in
the embedded Linux space is to offer support (yes, I know that idea
has been argued back and forth in the free software community for
years) rather than software.

It is also interesting that Linux is popular among embedded developers
less for its technical features as for the amenities that accompany
it: good tools (hurray GNU), device drivers, and documentation. This
question on the survey did not mention cost or license issues, but
Linux's advantages there seem valuable too. I base this conclusion
another question about what developers are willing to pay for (they
want to avoid per-unit royalties).