The Yocto Project is an interesting attempt to seed easier custom embedded Linux development by providing a coherent platform of open source and commercial supplements around the key areas of tools, silicon and methodology. The idea is to be more than just a distribution and – yes it’s that word again – closer to an ecosystem. Project supporters – it’s also an offshoot from the Linux Foundation – include chip vendors Intel, Freescale Semiconductor and Texas Instruments.
Tools vendor Mentor Graphics gave the emerging initiative a healthy boost today (March 27) by placing it front and center with the launch of the company’s latest Embedded Linux release.
On the ‘getting started’ side, Mentor is offering free downloads from a complete Linux Kit including a pre-built Yocto-based implementation package, a Board Support Package and the ‘lite’ version of its Sourcery CodeBench application development suite. Naturally, there are BeagleBoard and PandaBoard options as well as QEMU emulation for the four main architectures (ARM, PowerPC, x86 and MIPS).
Perhaps more interesting, though, is what Mentor proposes to do in the area of what it calls ‘Kernel agility’. The task is simple enough: Pick the right one for your target product. The process though isn’t – well, not necessarily. You could go with a legacy or an off the shelf option or you may have to go custom. In broader terms, there’s also the question of whether your kernel will play nice with your silicon. Mentor – and Yocto generally – want to step in and make these choices simpler and more informed.
The problem with open source is that while it’s inherently cheap and allows you to pull on a broad development community even as a smaller player, there’s always something of a gadfly element. What’s ‘sexy’ or ‘new’ gets the attention, but that might not be what will best suit your custom target.
Obviously, this is where the Linux players have long made some commercial coin, guiding customers through the confusion. But, as Linux has grown in usage, the challenge has switched from providing familiarity with and support for the technology to mitigating risk. A company may well know it wants to use the OS, but now it wants to be sure there will be long-term support behind its preferred flavor and that there is sufficient vertical integration across the design and hardware infrastructure. Allied to that, companies with higher risks to manage (automotive immediately springs to mind), are also willing to pay more for what’s on offer.
Yocto is not yet comprehensive. Its membership is yet to feature a few significant players in the embedded space. For example, alongside Mentor in the tools camp, you will find Intel’s embedded subsidiary Wind River and MontaVista Software, but it could do with maybe adding a few more. Similarly, while it has a good clutch of silicon vendors, there are a couple of absentees there also. However, after only two years on the go, it’s certainly got the right kind of outreach.
As Design West rolls out in San Jose over the next few days, it will be interesting to see what other project members may have to say or offer.