Linux – Really Free ?


I received a TON of feedback from my recent post Linux in Embedded Systems – The Windows side of the story.  this looked at Windows CE and Windows XP Embedded and how they compared with Linux (thanks everyone for your comments!) – a number of the comments pointed to Linux being free, so I decided to do some digging…

Let’s say that I wanted to build a consumer electronics device that supported playing music files, and an e-mail client using Linux, should be pretty straight forward to build such a device, right?. What are the requirements for this device ?

The most common music format being supported on digital music devices is MP3 (or Windows Media Audio) – so we would probably need an MP3 decoder, these are available from Fraunhofer at a license cost of $0.75 per device. What about the e-mail client, these are available from thekcompany for $2.00 per device (based on more that 10,000 units being shipped) – Do I spot a trend here ? – it would seem from reading the Embedded Market Forecasters Total Cost of Development (TCD) report (Page 28, Appendix D) that there are a number of runtime component technologies that need to be licensed (and integrated) into an embedded Linux device – These two components are just an example, I would guess that there’s also a bunch of other technologies out there that I would need to license and integrate.

I wonder how this equates to “Free” ?

Also in the feedback from the previous post was a request for a real world case study that shows why a customer chose Windows Embedded technologies over Linux – Check out this Wyse Case Study as an example.

<Snip>Wyse Technology is the worldwide market leader in thin client computing devices. As customers demand more sophisticated, powerful functionality on user desktops, Wyse turned to the Microsoft Windows® XP Embedded operating system to continue delivering cost-effective devices that could be designed with the broad features of Windows XP.

Wyse became an early adopter of the Windows XP Embedded operating system, choosing it over Linux and other embedded systems to develop the next generation of its Winterm Windows Custom-Application Terminals, or WinCATs. Jeff McNaught, vice president of market strategy for Wyse, says Windows XP Embedded helps the company deliver devices that provide the security, management, and cost advantages to thin client environments while offering the rich information access of a traditional, networked PC.

“Windows XP Embedded lets us give our customers thin client benefits such as ease of operation and low TCO, but it also provides the power and flexibility to access a wide range of peripherals or run custom software locally if that’s what they choose,” McNaught says. “Also, because it is a componentized version of Windows XP Professional, it has much broader peripheral support than competitive operating systems such as Linux. That makes it easy for customers to attach hardware such as smart card readers, biometric devices, and other peripherals to the thin client. This is critical to us because it is what our customers need, plus it helps our ISVs and other partners get complete solutions to their markets much faster.”

Ward Nash, the Wyse product manager overseeing the development of Wyse’s next-generation Windows XP Embedded-based devices, says Windows XP Embedded’s rich support for USB connections and peripherals presents a powerful incentive for Wyse customers.

“Linux is not the way to go if you need peripherals,” Nash says. “While the operating system might be free, you wind up spending a lot of time and money in development efforts to get peripherals to work with it. Windows XP Embedded makes it so much easier and less expensive to get our devices to market, and makes it easier to sell our thin client devices to customers.”

</Snip>

Comments ?

– Mike


Comments (12)

  1. Nektar says:

    To lower the barrier of entry for new developers, I strongly believe that Microsoft should stop charging the 1000$ initial cost for purchasing the developer suite. This is because I think that Microsoft actually makes its true profit from the licensing per device and not from the initial cost of purchasing the developer suite. People accept a platform if they can play with it, learn it at the pase and not if they have to pay after 120 days.

    Also, I think that MS should make more source code available, even for XP. Some users might have valid reasons for wishing more source code.

    Finally, Microsoft should build a community similar to Linux, in which developer would be able to share source code. The code of Windows CE is already available, at least most of it. You should create a special web site for developer to successfully share and improve it. Their change need not be incorporated into CE but other developer would be able to use them if they wish.

    This would give companies the advantages of both world. On the one hand they will be able to improve the source code of CE and keep the change to themselves, or on the other hand they can use a special webiste for searching and using code that has been published by other developer and then publish their own changes to that website as well.

    This scheme might need better thinking but I believe that it will give developer more freedom to use their code changes in any way they like, whilst building a community around CE as well.

  2. Dudeman says:

    Nektar, I disagree with some of your opinions. I think .NET has a thriving open source community that supports excellent development tools and runtime environments for both the compact framework and clr.

    Check:

    http://www.icsharpcode.net/OpenSource/SD/

    http://dotnetcf.org

    http://go-mono.com

  3. Alexander Suhovey says:

    Regarding 120-day evaluation – this is the limit for run-time images builded with evaluation version of XP Embedded Toolkit, not for toolkit itself. So you can play with eval tollkit however long you wish. You will need to spend $1000 only when you ready to bulid a production (licensed) run-time images. There’s also some minor restrictions for eval version of Toolkit. For more info see http://msdn.microsoft.com/embedded/getstart/evaluate/default.aspx

  4. lpbbear says:

    Having had the unfortunate opportunity to HAVE to work with your Wyse Win based terminals, I wouldn’t be crowing too loud in public were I the company responsible for the software that ran them! They are HORRIBLE bloated overpriced products that perfectly illustrate the overall problem with Microsoft’s approach to everything it creates.

    In short they suck.

    See if you can "grok" the following.

    Fraunhofer is a proprietary company (like Microsoft) and has NOTHING to do with Linux being free or not free.

    thekcompany.com is also a for profit company that releases a variety of products, some Open Source and some commercial and also has nothing to do with Linux being free or not free.

    Stop trying to compare Apples to Oranges in an effort to make your bogus point.

  5. Mike says:

    It’s clear that Linux can be free, developers can download the source, can get tools and implement their own tool chain and customize the operating system, or, have the ability to take on a commercial set of tools and source.

    Read Richard Lee’s post about his experiences with Windows CE and Linux (at the end of the "Linux in Embedded Systems post) – http://blogs.msdn.com/mikehall/archive/2005/01/13/352470.aspx – Richard works with both Windows Embedded and Linux products, his post makes for an interesting read.

    What doesn’t appear to be discussed is the fact that many technologies you may need for your embedded Linux device aren’t free and need to be licensed in order for you to build a real-world commercial shipping device.

    When evaluating embedded operating systems this is perhaps one hidden area that should be considered as part of the overall evaluation process.

    BTW – lpbbear, you say that the Wyse terminals are bloated, what do you mean by this ? – you also say that this perfectly illustrates Microsoft’s approach to everything it creates – can you expand on this ?

    – Mike

  6. HmmHmm says:

    To Nektar:

    If you are starting a new business, 1000USD is dirt cheap for what you get, specially after being able to play with it for 120days, which equates around 4 months. It gives quite some time to evaluate if you really want it or not.

    It also does not stop you from installing the software on another PC and importing your project if you need a time "extension".

  7. AK says:

    Stop feeding the troll. Stop posting anything and as a bonus – Maintain your dignity.

    Everyone – Repeat after me or other wise I will flood this place with unbearably illogical posts – Linux is not free, nothing is free. Redhat sells Linux, SuSE sells Linux, Fraunxxx sells MP3 decoders for Linux, Trolltech sells Qtopia for Linux. Now come on, Linux is not free. Consequently, since Linux is not free, buy Microsoft.

    Err.. Did I already start getting unbearable? Sorry, but I didn’t hear anyone repeating the "Linux is not Free" song, so I had to do this.

  8. APenna says:

    Many OEMs, in calculating the operating system component of their bill of materials cost analysis, compare Windows Embedded, which includes a run-time royalty cost per unit, and Linux, which has a different business model, and then assume that Linux is “free” and the cost reflected on their bill of materials should be zero. In fact, only the Linux kernel distribution itself is “free,” from a runtime licensing perspective not the additional applications, third-party technologies, and intellectual property that must often be licensed and integrated to provide a full device software solution.

    Mike’s Reference to Embedded Market Forecasters makes , a comparison of technologies, applications and services that come with the “free” Linux kernel as well as what comes included in the Windows CE Pro and Core products. Windows CE is used as the comparison point here since embedded Linux and CE are generally more comparable in terms of hardware support, cost structure, and functionality.

    The average runtime royalty cost of the non-bundled embedded Linux technologies if licensed separately.

    To fairly compare the actual runtime per unit, costs were generally quoted at an approximate volume purchase price of 10,000 units per year.

    As you can quickly see from the the table, there are a large number of component technologies that are included in the price of the Windows CE runtime royalty that are not included with the embedded Linux kernel and must be licensed separately from 3rd party ISVs. The Linux runtime costs vary tremendously depending on the component. For example an MP3 decode license separately licensed costs $0.75 per unit, a real-time kernel costs $8.00, a media player application, $2.00 and so on.

    In fact if you added up the average third party per unit runtime royalty costs for all the technology components that come with Windows CE Pro, but are not included in embedded Linux, an OEM would end up paying a little over $57.

    Clearly few OEMs would actually need all of these components in a single design, but it illustrates that Linux is not only not free, but even on a runtime basis, for many kinds of devices, often more expensive than Windows CE. In fact, according to the EMF study, of the 72% of embedded Linux using OEMs and building devices with displays, over 86% licensed at least on third party technology components that required a runtime royalty payment. The average total runtime royalty paid by embedded Linux OEMs was $8.15 per unit.

    Of course, there are several “free” versions of some of these technologies, like a browser, available that an OEM could download and use, but its interesting that many OEMs in the EMF study who chose Linux, also chose to pay runtime royalties for components, potentially indicative of the quality difference and/or integration cost.

    It’s important, too, to think about the cost to your organization of doing all these licensing deals, administering the deals afterwards, and integrating the technology once you’ve licensed it. These are all additional vendor management costs which are not factored in to the cost here. Vendor management costs vary by Company but can cost anywhere from $10-50,000 per vendor per year.

    An OEM choosing Windows Embedded then has access to a rich set of included software technologies from a single vendor at a known price and may avoid high integration costs.

    In contrast to embedded Linux where OEMs only get the core Linux kernel and networking stack for “free” but then must either internally develop or separately license and integrate from multiple third parties at various prices while still having to own the final technology integration.

  9. APenna says:

    Many OEMs, in calculating the operating system component of their bill of materials cost analysis, compare Windows Embedded, which includes a run-time royalty cost per unit, and Linux, which has a different business model, and then assume that Linux is “free” and the cost reflected on their bill of materials should be zero. In fact, only the Linux kernel distribution itself is “free,” from a runtime licensing perspective not the additional applications, third-party technologies, and intellectual property that must often be licensed and integrated to provide a full device software solution.

    Mike’s Reference to Embedded Market Forecasters makes , a comparison of technologies, applications and services that come with the “free” Linux kernel as well as what comes included in the Windows CE Pro and Core products. Windows CE is used as the comparison point here since embedded Linux and CE are generally more comparable in terms of hardware support, cost structure, and functionality.

    The average runtime royalty cost of the non-bundled embedded Linux technologies if licensed separately.

    To fairly compare the actual runtime per unit, costs were generally quoted at an approximate volume purchase price of 10,000 units per year.

    As you can quickly see from the the table, there are a large number of component technologies that are included in the price of the Windows CE runtime royalty that are not included with the embedded Linux kernel and must be licensed separately from 3rd party ISVs. The Linux runtime costs vary tremendously depending on the component. For example an MP3 decode license separately licensed costs $0.75 per unit, a real-time kernel costs $8.00, a media player application, $2.00 and so on.

    In fact if you added up the average third party per unit runtime royalty costs for all the technology components that come with Windows CE Pro, but are not included in embedded Linux, an OEM would end up paying a little over $57.

    Clearly few OEMs would actually need all of these components in a single design, but it illustrates that Linux is not only not free, but even on a runtime basis, for many kinds of devices, often more expensive than Windows CE. In fact, according to the EMF study, of the 72% of embedded Linux using OEMs and building devices with displays, over 86% licensed at least on third party technology components that required a runtime royalty payment. The average total runtime royalty paid by embedded Linux OEMs was $8.15 per unit.

    Of course, there are several “free” versions of some of these technologies, like a browser, available that an OEM could download and use, but its interesting that many OEMs in the EMF study who chose Linux, also chose to pay runtime royalties for components, potentially indicative of the quality difference and/or integration cost.

    It’s important, too, to think about the cost to your organization of doing all these licensing deals, administering the deals afterwards, and integrating the technology once you’ve licensed it. These are all additional vendor management costs which are not factored in to the cost here. Vendor management costs vary by Company but can cost anywhere from $10-50,000 per vendor per year.

    An OEM choosing Windows Embedded then has access to a rich set of included software technologies from a single vendor at a known price and may avoid high integration costs.

    In contrast to embedded Linux where OEMs only get the core Linux kernel and networking stack for “free” but then must either internally develop or separately license and integrate from multiple third parties at various prices while still having to own the final technology integration.

    -Andreas

  10. 嵌入式裝置上的 OS選擇,不外乎一開始選邊站,當然排除其他MS以外的commercial OS的話,就屬於Embedded Linux與Windows XP Embedded/Windows CE的選擇了。我一直都有個疑惑,或許也是各方的擁護者都說自己

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