Embedded Linux goes Open Source

November 21, 2007 // 5:40 p.m.

Tags: #asus #bios #boot #code #developer #embedded #fast #gpl #linux #motherboard #p5e3 #phoenix #source #splashtop

DeviceVM, the maker of Splashtop software which features embedded Linux "Fast Boot" products like featured in the Asus P5E3 Deluxe WiFi-AP @n has just released the source code to its software under GPL.

The software is loaded onto a hard-wired USB device in the PC which then gives the option of booting into the main OS or the Splashtop client - which currently offers basic Skype and Firefox functions. We highlighted in the review that allowing program installation so we could customise it with other software such as a media player or email, perhaps, would make it much more useful.

It looks like Splashtop hopes the coding community will jump at the chance to expand this for the company, providing there's enough product popularity to get it off the ground.

Unfortunately for DeviceVM, Phoenix (the company that makes virtually every consumer and OEM PC BIOS on the market) has just launched its embedded Hyperspace application that goes down a similar route of "Fast Booting OS". It looks like DeviceVM suddenly came across a rather large hurdle for mass adoption.

In order to inquire about what's coming up for Splashtop, we managed to grab Sergei Krupenin from DeviceVM for a little while to nail down what the future will hold for it.

He told bit-tech that "there are a couple new motherboards with Splashtop targeted for release at the end of the year, but we cannot announce the specifics until the OEM gives us the green light. At the same time, all the major manufacturers are talking to DeviceVM about doing laptop and desktop products for next year.

"Another thing is that we feel our open platform (with a soon to be released SDK) also allows consumers to do more with Splashtop than with other solutions.

"For the P5E3 motherboard, Splashtop was designed to reside within the limited non-volatile on-board memory. While it is a restricted environment that may vary in size for other models, additional programs can be accommodated and we are working on enabling that through an SDK. Since speed and security are two of our core value propositions, the main challenge we are addressing is how to create an extensible environment without slowing down Splashtop or opening vulnerabilities.

"The consumer feedback after the launch tells us that people want to add applications such as IM or music playback to Splashtop - just as you pointed out. So this is a major direction. We are planning to start by offering selected applications for download through our web site, initially within a Beta program, and later open this up."


Thankfully, DeviceVM recognises that security is as important as an open system, but it's certainly a very difficult balance to achieve. Contrastingly, Phoenix is going to heavily lock down Hyperspace to foreign intervention and only allow updates from secure servers.

When asked about the competition from Phoenix, Mr. Krupenin said that "the competition is good, as it helps educate consumers about the availability of “Fast Boot” offerings, and also encourages manufacturers to bring products to market. We are interested to see what Phoenix has in store. In the meantime the P5E3 is already out and the pipeline of Splashtop-enabled products is growing."

Unfortunately the Asus P5E3 Deluxe WiFi AP @n is a seriously expensive motherboard, so we asked Asus what else is in the pipe that's a bit more consumer wallet friendly. We were told that there was nothing specifically being made just yet because there are many economic factors that go into a motherboard design.

The personal opinion of the Asus representative was that it suited home theatre PCs (HTPCs) more, where he echoed our appeal of a fast booting machine for music and video. However, he was quick to point out that the team currently working on ExpressGate (Asus' branding of Splashtop) had limited resources. Therefore, this and other complementary additions like a remote control were, at best, still idealist ideas. In addition, music and video codecs require licences to be purchased for some commercial codecs, adding to the cost of the unit and making it potentially even more infeasible.

It seems as though this is heading in the right direction, but it depends how much the development community take a shining to it and what consumer boards subsequently offer it. We could be left with a Catch-22 situation where no one bothers to buy the boards because there's no development for them or the program management is too difficult for the layman consumer, so no one bothers in developing for it. A cynic could argue that the guys at DeviceVM just want others to do their job for them, instead of making these extra programmes themselves - simply making it open source doesn't create a community.

Many thanks for Asus and DeviceVM for giving us their input. We'll have to see what the future has in store - we just hope it doesn't take too long.

Is the fast booting embedded Linux a great option or a nice idea you'll never use? Let us know in the forums.
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