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Can Linux Be Made To Do 'Hard' Time?

Chicago — For Kevin Morgan, hard real-time Linux is a matter of determination. Never mind that much of the embedded industry is leery. Never mind that the history of Unix is littered with the tales of others who have tried to write hard real-time kernels but have been eaten up by the effort. Morgan sees it as an issue of plain old hard work.

"This isn't rocket science," said Morgan, the vice president of engineering for MontaVista Software Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.). "It's a 'get down and do the heavy lifting' kind of problem."

Tomorrow, MontaVista will show off its muscles as it rolls out a reference implementation of a hard real-time kernel that it claims far exceeds the real-time capabilities of existing versions of Linux. During the coming months, the open-source software maker will take input and collaborate with the Linux community on issues surrounding the new technology. And while it does that, MontaVista is simultaneously laying plans to unveil a product based on its real-time kernel in early 2005.

"We are going to work with the open-source community, but we're not waiting for [formal adoption] before we take these technologies to market," Morgan said.

If embraced, the "Open Source Real-Time Linux Project," as MontaVista calls it, could open new avenues for Linux in mobile handsets and telecom switching equipment, where it typically must now reside alongside a separate real-time operating system (RTOS) in order to ensure real-time responsiveness. Moreover, the technology could have applications in other areas, such as factory automation, defense and aerospace, where real-time capability is considered critical.

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