Pictures at an Exhibition: The Embedded Systems Conference

Below, a verbal snapshot of the spring Embedded Systems Conference,
courtesy of Phoenix [] developer David Hayden, who
was gracious enough to submit his work.

← greenboy —<<<< chairman-director,
Phoenix Developer Consortium []


The Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) was held April 9-12 at Moscone
Center in San Francisco. This gathering of leading companies involved
in the embedded world brings together a wide range of technologies. The
Conference may indeed also be seen as a convergence show. Larger
players commonly known for their desktop computer activities such as
Intel, AMD, Motorola, Microsoft, and Red Hat also appear here. It has
become a truism that desktop vendors and suppliers are a significant
force in the embedded systems community.

From Java middleware providers to OS companies and software sub-systems
suppliers, to manufacturers of small electronic components, board
prototypes, reference designs, and embedded mainboards and cards, the
conference is a splendid opportunity to get a good view of the products
of the future and learn a bit on how they are made and deployed. Many
vendors provide hourly training and introductory sessions on the main
floor as well as the more intensive seminars behind closed doors. In
the technology sector all eyes are now on embedded technology – and it

I confess that my main reason for attending ESC is because of QSSL’s
presence. QNX Software Systems Limited, the maker of the QNX RealTime
Platform (based on the QNX6 Neutrino/Photon operating system), is one
of best-represented and larger companies that attends ESC. They cover
an impressive gamut: from showcasing CDs of the most current release of
the OS, to running hands-on demonstrations, to great promotional give-
aways – the QNX area never fails to grab major interest.

This year’s QNX pavilion held demonstrations of the operating system
running on various alternate-processor hardware, and demonstrations of
how the OS is being used by partner OEMs. QNX was shown running on not
only x86 single-processor and SMP boxen, but also on

The non-x86 versions of QNX6 were not yet full implementations of the
RealTime Platform, lacking mainly the Shelf found in that distribution.
But the interface and feel were exactly the same in all other regards.
Several demonstration applications were available to play with in the
right-mouse menu and all machines were connected to the Internet. I had
the opportunity to chat on the #phoenix channel using PhIRC while I was
at one of the many non-x86 systems provided, as well as doing a little
surfing, and playing with the various demos – all of which are
identical to those accompanying the current RTP distribution.

QNX staffers were helpful and attentive and free Patch B Distribution
CDs were handed out gleefully. I got the impression that porting the
entire RealTime Platform – or any app being developed – to any and
all QNX microkernel-supported architectures, was indeed soon to be a
very simple task.

Other sections of the QNX floor were dedicated to the products of QSSL
Partners. In the IBM section, several countertop and webpad devices
were displayed and in usable state. One device in particular that was
impressive was a slim black unit that was not yet fully equipped with
the intended software. The form factor, display quality, and control
ergonomics of the unit made it my favorite webtop to date. Most webtop
and countertop devices, by desktop standards, tend to have poor mouse-
pointer action and display, but this little baby was bright, clear, and
smooth. The name of the device will likely change when it hits shelves,
and I don’t remember it.

3Com’s now-discontinued Audrey was also on display in two colors. This
is a decent device with a good display and a reasonably responsive and
easy-to-navigate interface. I had difficulty figuring out how to type
in a URL that was not already bookmarked though. But besides that, I
would buy one – though QSSL was giving away five of them.

A neat WebTV style device called PCTVNet was on show. This small black
infrared-keyboard-equipped device looked promising, providing email,
www, video-conferencing and television functions, mp3 playback, and
several other interesting features. It still was in prototype and some
graphical glitching when doing overlay over live video was still
evident (perhaps a palette-switch issue). Made in Norway, it features
an AMD processor and QNX6, Citrix, and…the Opera Browser! Of course
these devices interest me only if I can choose my own ISP; it was not
yet decided what the case would be here. But when they fix the buggy
display, this will be a great little device. Pricing was not yet

QNX product was also to be found on show in many other booths on the
show floor, including those of Motorola, Intel, AMD, and Hitachi – and
QNX’s logo was also displayed prominantly in at least a dozen others
which proferred themselves as QNX partners. Having attended last year’s
ESC in San Jose ESC, my impression was that an already-impressive
support for QNX was definately expanding.

Motorola was also to be found running QNX6, on a PowerPC G4 system that
appeared to be a passive backplane with the G4 on a card. The Motorola
representative present evinced a surprising interest in finding and
helping independent third-parties manufacture G4+ based motherboards.
With this in mind, I left the Motorola area a with an extra spring in
my step – some information that can’t be announced yet but stay tuned.

AMD was showing QNX running on PC-style machines and the PCTVnet box as
well. The Norweigian creator of the device apparently manned the
PCTVnet display at AMD’s area but never appeared while I was there. I
hoped to track him down to get some solid information regarding the
device, as its brochure raised a few questions; everyone else seemed to
be a little evasive. No luck however, but there should be some
announcement about it shortly.

Objective Interface Systems, a maker of Corba ORBs, was only a few
steps away from the QNX area, so I was surprised when QNX was not
displayed in their supported-systems list. I discovered that they had
attempted to port to QNX 4, and failed with the discontinued Watcom
compiler, but now had their ORB running without problems under QNX6.
So, if a customer desires, OI will of course provide their ORB for use
with QNX6.

…There are a number of so-called realtime operating systems shown at
ESC. I took another look at each of them. The largest defining
difference between these and the approach QNX has taken is that every
example save for those efforts based around Linux are hosted – mostly
with Microsoft products, with a few other players like OS-9 that were
not all represented at the show. Many have moved away from self-hosted
development environments or never had them to begin with. QNX and
Linux-based projects in fact seem to be the only major realtime OS
designs which provide this advantage. Many of the other realtime OS
vendors even subsist as licensed resellers of NT and CE.

On a related note, I stopped to listen in on a Microsoft seminar for
Windows CE 3.0. They were rather loudly touting hard realtime: giving
animated descriptions on how scheduling for specific tasks could be
changed on the fly – putting a task to sleep, changing its scheduling
type, waking it up. Ironically, during this presentation, the host
noticed me in the back row and froze for all of five seconds while
bearing an expression that surely resembled fear. He then continued on.
I am not sure what he was reacting to, but this somehow made the rest
of my day a lot more enjoyable :wink:

– David Hayden, developer,
Phoenix Developer Consortium []