Operating systems based on the Linux kernel are among the most popular solutions for embedded systems. It is so because they do not require as many resources as other systems and, therefore, can be incorporated into devices that provide limited space for hardware. In this article, we focus on what an embedded Linux operating system is and discuss its practical applications. If this topic interests you, then we encourage you to read on.
What Is an Embedded Linux Operating System?
An embedded Linux operating system, though based on the same kernel, is slightly different from the variation of this OS used for general-purpose computers. It all stems from what the embedded systems are and require.
As an OS for smaller, independent devices that need energy efficiency and light software, the Linux embedded operating system is a compiled version of the desktop Linux. It does not offer as much processing power nor has a developed UI (though it might be customized to have one if the embedded system requires it). It is also based on a real-time kernel, which is designed to perform a particular function rather than a set of different ones. Finally, the embedded Linux operating system is customizable and adjustable based on the type of embedded system that it will be installed in.
Embedded Linux Operating Systems vs. Other Operating Systems
The Linux operating system is so popular due to its open-source and cost-effective nature. However, there is a vast number of alternatives that are available for embedded system engineers.
FreeBSD is among the other operating systems that we use alongside embedded Linux. These two have a lot in common, since FreeBSD is also open-source and free to use.
There are, obviously, many other options available, and the choice between them usually depends on your particular needs and your business model. Here, you have two things to worry about: your hardware and OS license. The former is quite simple, as your hardware should always define your software – you ought to choose an operating system that is compatible with and supports your hardware. The latter is a bit more complicated. It requires you to calculate the potential profits based on the licensing, but also access to code and the possibility to customize the OS, along with the overall time your team will need to modify the system.
This is why at Conclusive, we have a few particular operating systems we feel most comfortable with. Our proficiency and contribution to these open-source options (Linux, FreeBSD, FreeRTOS, Zephyr RTOS) enables us to select the right option for every case and prepare highly customized, both low- and high-level solutions for every one of our clients.
The Use Cases of Embedded Linux Operating System
The embedded Linux OS can be utilized for a plethora of embedded systems, usually those a little bit more complex than one-function ones. We will now take a look at a few examples and use cases of this operating system to give you a wider perspective.
First, let’s take a look at embedded systems in automobiles and how Linux-based operating systems are used in that case.
While in cars, at many times, there’s a need for hard real-time embedded systems, there are some exceptions. Informational and entertainment systems are an example of that. The former still needs a real-time solution, but it can be a soft one.
The most common Linux standard, in this case, is GENIVI. This term comes from the combination of Geneva and IVI (in-vehicle-infotainment) and was coined in 2009 when it began to be introduced, mostly by large technological and automotive companies (Intel, BMW Group, PSA Peugeot Citroen, and more).
There’s hardly anyone in the world who hasn’t heard about the Android OS for mobile phones. But what if we told you that it could also be classified as an embedded Linux OS?
In nature, Android is also based on the Linux kernel, but it introduces some slight modifications to it. These aim mostly at mobile devices. Therefore, although the status of Android is often a subject of discussions and arguments, the route that this system has undergone is similar to any other embedded Linux OS. It’s simply a highly customized embedded Linux variation designed specifically for smartphones and tablets. But, due to the level to which the whole OS is modified, it’s rather unusable for anything other than mobile devices.
We should also mention here that other non-Android, but Linux-based operating systems are also used for a plethora of other smart devices, like smartwatches or smart speakers.
Linux Operating System Projects for Embedded Systems
Finally, let us take a look at the most common projects that focus on preparing custom embedded Linux solutions. These open-source collaborations are an excellent source of resources and knowledge, though they often are targeted at particular types of embedded systems.
- Yocto – One of the most popular embedded Linux collaborations offering a wide array of tools to create a flexible, customizable embedded OS for the desired hardware architecture.
- Buildroot – Simple and efficient tool to generate Linux-based embedded operating systems through cross-compilation.
- OpenWrt – Customizable framework dedicated mostly to wireless router software.
Embedded Linux is widely used for embedded systems, no matter what kind of hardware they use and what role they play. Being one of the least expensive, most customizable and highly supported OS, Linux is often the best choice. This is why it also found a place on the list of operating systems used by us – and it should find a place on your list as well.
You may also read: Rich Operating System vs. Real-Time Operating System