MIPS Technologies Joins the Linux Foundation; Embedded Linux Device Market Heating Up

by Ostatic Staff - Feb. 23, 2009

The present economy has the technology industry in an interesting position. Computer manufacturers and system builders (such as Dell, ASUS, and MSI) have focused on using "full desktop" chips (Intel and VIA) and components, and shrinking them down into small, inexpensive devices that are capable of performing basic computing tasks. It's been difficult, however, to fully break from the "full desktop" school of thought -- and these small machines, for many, are a little too expensive for what they deliver.

Embedded chip manufacturers feel they have something to offer, and that using their processors in these settings will be both cost-effective and a better computing experience. The embedded chips are quite powerful, and a few embedded chip companies are firm in the belief that open source operating systems are the best way to bring out the best in their processors, and the devices they power.

MIPS Technologies, a producer of embedded processors, analog IP products and software tools, announced this morning that it has joined the Linux Foundation. MIPS vice president of software engineering, Udi Kalekin, says that the majority of MIPS developers use Linux for product development, so membership in the Foundation seemed a natural way to support their efforts as well as contribute to the larger Linux community.

The embedded chip manufacturers seem genuinely committed to using open source software on their devices. Last week Freescale announced that it was expanding its push into the netbook arena, and that it would be supporting a number of open source platforms on its processors.

MIPS is equally as serious, and this is demonstrated even beyond its Linux Foundation membership. At the 2009 Toy Fair earlier this month, Sakar introduced a MIPS-powered netbook targeted at children. The MiniBook has an EeePC Easy Mode-esque presentation, and features applications such as Abiword, Pidgin, and Gnumeric (great for budding accountants, or perhaps only their parents for now). What's most interesting is that Sakar traditionally sells its products at department stores and pharmacies. What are the implications of a low cost, quite sufficiently powered, Linux based computer geared toward younger people?

Observing the netbook (and small device/embedded) market is like watching a sporting event -- one where both teams are highly skilled, but whose strengths lie in different areas. It looks as though scaling down is proving difficult for chip makers -- balancing price, and optimizing (and deciding on) the included software for these devices has been a challenge. Perhaps MIPS and Freescale have the formula right -- approaching the market with their previous embedded systems experience, all the while developing, optimizing, and using the software that best complements their hardware and meets their customers' needs.