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QNX opens Neutrino RTOS source code

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In a bid to boost its profile in the emerging 'e-device' arena, real-time operating system supplier QNX is going open source - sort of. QNX calls its take on open source, 'accessible source'. As yet, the precise terms of the licensing agreement have yet to be finalised, but the scheme broadly mirrors Sun's Java Public Source licence. So, source code will be made available to anyone who wants it, and developers will only pay if they take products based on QNX technology to market. Again, that's sort of. Not all of QNX's Neutrino OS will be opened up in this way. Neutrino's boot code, Web browser, media players, driver toolkits and other OS utilities like the Photon microGUI will be opened for public inspection, but its microkernel and core OS modules will remain proprietary. QNX's reasoning here is that it needs to show clearly to licensees that it retains full control of the core IP - as Greg Bergsma, VP of QNX's US operations, put it, licensees building products based on QNX don't want to be forced to release their own code to the open source community, as they are under the GNU Public Licence. Neutrino also contains some third-party code that QNX couldn't open up if it wanted to, but let's be honest here, it's also as much about protecting QNX's licensing revenue stream. In that respect it's no different from, say, Apple's decision to open source the core technology of MacOS X, but retain its GUI and other services in the proprietary space. Like Apple, QNX has largely been forced to embrace - albeit cautiously - the open source community because of Linux. QNX has some clear and strong advantages over the open source OS in the embedded space, but Linux's free availability is clearly going to have an impact on QNX's business. QNX's tactic, like Apple's, is to protect its core technologies by becoming sufficiently open to attract developers who like the flexibility of the open source model but need a more structured development environment than the chaotic Linux world provides. And since QNX uses the same APIs as Linux, such as Posix and X Windows, it hopes to encourage developers who have experience with the open source OS to shift over to Neutrino. Then there's competition with other RTOS vendors. QNX reckons it's number two in the market, behind WinRiver, but with 200-odd vendors in the field, even WinRiver's marketshare is just 10-15 per cent of the market. QNX's play for dominance centres on making its technology more accessible than its rivals', and in the Linux era, that means opening portions of the code. It also means free downloads of the full Neutrino environment and development tools - or the QNX Realtime Platform, as it's now being called. The QNX Realtime Platform is due to be launched mid-May at the QNX 2000 show. Attendees will get a copy, but everyone else will have to wait until mid-summer for the public download site. ®

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