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QNX Neutrino was picked to power 3Com’s Audrey Net appliance. And alliances
with the likes of Palm and Cisco are widely rumoured
Embedded operating systems are designed to be hidden from users. So if you
haven’t heard of QNX Software Systems’s QNX Neutrino, you’re not alone.
But QNX could become almost a household name, if rumours about deals in the
pipeline pan out. Neutrino may end up powering devices ranging from Palm
PDAs to Cisco Systems routers at some point in the not-too-distant future.
QNX (pronounced Cue-nix, rhymes with Unix) makes the embedded microkernel
operating system that powers 3Com’s new Audrey Net appliance and
Netpliance’s iOpener. QNX also markets a “microGUI” windowing interface
called Photon, which 3Com also licensed for the Audrey device.
Outside of the consumer market, the QNX Neutrino operating system powers
many other systems, particularly in the industrial and medical-equipment
fields. The Ontario, Canada-based company was founded 20 years ago as a
real-time operating system vendor.
Other companies in the embedded OS space include Microsoft, with its Windows
CE Embedded and NT Embedded products – embedded Linux vendors, such as
Lineo; and traditional real-time OS vendors, including Wind River Systems
and Lynx Systems (now known as LynuxWorks).
Until five years ago, QNX was an X86 shop only. Since then, the company has
ported its operating system to PowerPC and MIPS. It is working on ARM and
StrongARM ports of Neutrino, and it could have a “fairly reasonable set” of
its technologies ported to ARM/StrongARM within six months, officials said.
“We made our OS multiplatform to be able to grab more market share in other
markets, especially in telecommunications and consumer electronics,”
explained Greg Bergsma, QNX vice president of North American operations.
Rumours are flying that QNX has set its sights on some big targets. As part
of its work for 3Com, QNX developed technology to allow Audrey to sync with
Palm devices. Some industry watchers have hinted that Palm may be interested
in licensing QNX Neutrino for its StrongARM-based systems once QNX completes
Bergsma said talk of Palm licensing Neutrino “is not crazy”, but no such
deal has been made. A spokeswoman for Palm did not respond for a request to
comment by publication time.
Because Neutrino is built from the ground up on standard POSIX application
programming interfaces, porting non-Neutrino-based software to Neutrino is
fairly straightforward, he said.
In theory, “the Palm OS could become just another layer on top of our OS,”
Bergsma said. “But right now, that’s just pie in the sky.”
Another possible win for Neutrino, this time on the router front, might be
announced in early 2001, Bergsma said.
In a deal signed two years ago, Cisco chose QNX as its preferred real-time
OS vendor as part of Cisco’s “ongoing efforts to increase the reliability
and availability of data-voice-video networks”. Since then, not much seems
to have materialised from the partnership.
But come next year, Bergsma said, QNX will have more to say about Cisco. He
declined to provide further details. “Other telcos are interested in our
technology, too,” he added, but cited nondisclosure agreements as to why he
could say nothing more.
A Cisco spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment prior to
What’s QNX got that has so many different kinds of companies interested?
“Our technologies have been out there for 20 years. We’ve gotten it so we
can fit a lot of functionality in a very small footprint,” said Bergsma. And
unlike Linux, which requires licensers to provide source-code changes back
to the community, QNX owns the rights to all of its POSIX APIs, so vendors
can make changes to differentiate their products without having to go public