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Linux strong, Android surging says embedded survey

May 29, 2013 — by Eric Brown 2,420 views

Linux crept up slightly in the EE Times 2013 Embedded Market Study, representing 34 percent of current projects while Android showed the greatest growth, jumping to 16 percent, for a total of 50 percent for Linux-based platforms. Meanwhile, ARM processors continue to attract more embedded developers.

In early March, UBM Technology shared some preliminary details on current OS use from its survey-based EE Times “2013 Embedded Market Study.” Now, UBM has released the full report, showing further details on future OS plans among embedded developers, processor preferences, and much more.

The results should be seen as a general, but imperfect, guide to trends in the immensely broad and varied world of embedded development. It’s still one of the best indicators we have on the embedded landscape, along with the VDC Research embedded reports. UBM’s survey is based on 2,098 valid respondents working in the embedded development world, with an overall confidence rating of 95 percent +/- 2.13 percent, according to UBM.


Embedded OS preferences

The previously released finding, in which UBM asked embedded developers to list all OSes they are currently using, appears to remain the same in the final report. When one combines all the Linux-based platforms, including Android, the total rises to 50 percent from 46 percent. If you subtract Android, which showed the greatest growth of any individual platform, jumping from 13 percent to 16 percent, you get 34 percent for Linux, up from 33 percent the previous year.

Overall embedded OS trends
(click image to enlarge; source: UBM)


OS category trends and considerations
(click image to enlarge; source: UBM)


Embedded Linux trends and considerations
(click image to enlarge; source: UBM)


Note that the numbers are a bit inexact since the chart no longer shows the 3 percent for MontaVista that appeared on the 2012 report, presumably because it dropped below the 2 percent cutoff required to make the chart. Most likely MontaVista is still worth at least a percentage point, and there may be other Linux distributions under 2 percent that did not appear either.

In any case, Linux represents the largest single operating system, with or without Android, besting “inhouse/custom” OSes, which rose from 22 percent to 24 percent in the latest survey. On the other hand, if you add together all the other platforms, mostly proprietary real-time operating systems RTOSes), not counting Microsoft’s embedded OSes and TI’s DSP platform, you get 57 percent, so cumulatively, RTOS still rules.

Then again, of all these RTOS platforms, five showed year-to-year losses, three stayed the same, and only two showed increases, with one-point bumps for Analog Devices’s VDK and the open source FreeRTOS, which led the RTOS pack at 13 percent. Arguably, you could add two new entries that were not previously listed to the win column: Freescale MQX and Texas Instruments (TI) RTOS. The biggest losers among the RTOS platforms were Wind River’s VxWorks and Micrium’s combined RTOS offerings.

Microsoft’s combined platforms, meanwhile, stabilized after suffering a 5-point loss in 2012. Windows Embedded 7 rose a point and Windows 7 Compact dropped a point, to maintain a 19 percent combined showing.

Future OS plans

The survey also asked respondents which OSes they were considering using in the next year. Here, expected usage dropped or stayed the same on almost every platform except for in-house/custom, up 2 points to 19 percent, and Keil RTX, up one point to 6 percent.

At 28 percent, Android represented the largest percentage in expected usage, but it also showed one of the bigger drops from the 34 percent who were expecting to be using Android a year ago. Clearly, when you compare that with the 16 percent who are actually using Android now, there’s a disconnect between the Android promise and the Android reality. Or as Mom and Dad used to tell you, your eyes are bigger than your stomach.

Those planning to use embedded Linux platforms aside from Android dropped 2 points to 54 percent compared to 2012, with only Ubuntu and Angstrom holding steady. Windows platforms showed similar drops, and RTOSes dropped even farther. Even FreeRTOS dropped two points. This year, it seems, developers are more satisfied with what they have.

Processors: ARM grows, but only slightly

When asking developers which microprocessor vendors they are considering using, there were relatively few changes, with TI holding its lead at 29 percent, Microchip up 2 points to 27 percent and Freescale rising a point to 26 percent. Narrowing that down to specific 32-bit processor families — by far the most popular MPU type used compared to 64-, 16- and 8-bit families — and asking which processors developers were planning on using for their next project, Microchip’s MIPS-based PIC led the way at 23 percent. Second place went to ST’s ARM-based STM32 at 22 percent, which was trailed by TI’s ARM-based Stellaris at 21 percent. The next two entries were also ARM-based: TI OMAP and NXP ARM, both at 17 percent.

Embedded processor trends and considerations
(click image to enlarge; source: UBM)


Intel’s x86 processors came in sixth at 16 percent, up from 15 percent the prior year. The other x86 platform — AMD’s Fusion, Athlon, Opteron, and Geode — dropped a point to 5 percent.

Clearly, ARM is on the move here, with Qualcomm’s ARM Cortex processors jumping up two points to 5 percent. FPGAs continued to decline, but Xilinx’ Zynq ARM/FPGA SoC combo had the biggest percentage point rise on the chart, jumping from 6 percent to 13 percent.

There’s plenty more in the report, which includes dozens of questions asking about everything from application type (industrial and automation still lead), project duration (mostly under a year), and programming languages (60 percent C). The leading reason for choosing an OS was the availability of full source code (42 percent). To find out more, download UBM’s comprehensive 85-page 2013 Embedded Market Study (pdf file).

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