July 31, 2006 6:00 AM PDT

Linux headed into Boeing antisub aircraft

Boeing has awarded Wind River Systems a contract to embed its version of Linux into a new military aircraft, the software company said Monday.

Boeing, the aerospace giant, will use Wind River's Linux to run surveillance and other mission computing tasks in the P-8A Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft, a 737 modified for U.S. Navy uses such as finding submarines and other tasks, said Chip Downing, senior aerospace and defense marketing manager at Wind River. Linux won't be used for navigation or aircraft control systems.

P-8A aircraft

Linux has made inroads into embedded computing systems such as networking equipment and mobile phones, but Wind River is trying to expand its presence in other embedded computing markets such as aerospace and military applications. The strategy is a turnaround for the Alameda, Calif.-based company, which until 2003 disparaged Linux in favor of its own proprietary operating system, VxWorks.

The company is bridging the divide between the two operating systems with its Workbench programming tool software. Wind River charges a company $4,000 to $11,000 for each developer's copy of Workbench. However, whereas Wind River charges a royalty fee for devices using VxWorks, it doesn't do so for Linux, said Glenn Seiler, senior manager for Linux Platforms at Wind River.

Wind River also announced Monday that it has released 300,000 lines of open-source code to Eclipse Foundation, a project for programming tools. The software should improve features for programming with the C or C++ languages, debugging, and running software on embedded computing systems.

Wind River also is releasing version 1.3 of several products, including its Platform for Consumer Devices, Linux Edition. That version is specifically designed for smart phones--feature-rich models that often have full keyboards and relatively large memory and processing power.

"You can get a complete Linux distribution--kernel, driver, networking, file system--in about 4MB of memory," Seiler said.

The new version, based on version 2.6.14 of the Linux kernel, is a significant improvement over the first that was introduced in late 2005, he said. Specifically, it includes an update with many more "mutexes"--interruption points where the operating system can quickly be redirected to service a high-priority task.

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12 comments

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Wind River's been around a long time
I don't know why this is such a big deal. Wind River has been around for a long time. Their realtime OS has been used in many embedded devices and CE devices, so it comes as no surprise their [apparently, I haven't tried it in my own products] stable system would not find its way into more projects, regardless the size or complexity, or whether it's running Linux. Of course, I'd be curious to know what happens when a vulnerability is found in Linux and how that gets placed into their version, and how quickly that can happen vs. their own proprietary OS, but I'd imagine they have a development team capable of handling such a task.
Posted by AuriRahimzadeh (17 comments )
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Why is this a surprise?
It only makes sense to me that on something as vital as this, a company would want a stable os and not M$. I am sure they will compile their own kernel for it.<br><a href="http://www.ingsoft.net">HOIATL</a></br>
Posted by hoiatl (2 comments )
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Wrong surprise
It's not a surprise that they're not using Microsoft. MS does not license its software for such uses. It's a surprise that they're using Linux, as opposed to another embedded OS systems.
Posted by ebrandel (102 comments )
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Windows for Warfare
Windows has been used for far, far more extensive purposes, including next-gen aircraft carriers.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.theregister.co.uk/2000/09/22/windows_for_warfare_more_info/" target="_newWindow">http://www.theregister.co.uk/2000/09/22/windows_for_warfare_more_info/</a>

This is orders of magnitude more impressive than this Linux use.

However, I'm not bashing Linux, I expect to see more and more uses like this across the military as Linux matures. Probably more Windows ones as well, depending on what the reqs are.

You'd be amazed how different the world looks to those of us without the "OS religion" blinders on!
Posted by KTLA_knew (385 comments )
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A Spruce Goose in the Making
Linux onboard an aircraft! What a joke!! I hope it's isolated to a laptop, otherwise they ought to issue each member a parachute. Even Microsoft is smart enough to note its EULA agreements that its software is not to be used in aircraft or spacecraft, particularly for essential life support systems.
Posted by WJeansonne (480 comments )
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Not control systems
Linux is not being used for critical flights systems, just the mission electronics. It does the research, doesn't fly the plane.
Posted by KTLA_knew (385 comments )
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Does this mean the AirCrafts source code is open source?
I didn't think our mility would run equipment on open source. Seems like a security risk.
Posted by Knight21024 (8 comments )
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Why do you think that?
Linux is not a security risk, neither is open source. That you think so shows your ignorance. Besides, anything that they add to linux for this system does not have to be redistributed to the public in any way.

If you redistribute an open source program you have to include the code for any changes, but that doesn't mean you can't keep your project internal. It is not like this will show up on sourceforge or anything.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
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Don't have to ask!
It just means that they can taylor the software as they see fit without having ask permission or pay fees to Bill and Steve. It worked for SBC and the USN so it should work for USAF.
Posted by Mister C (423 comments )
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Windriver is everywhere
Windriver code is found in anything from consumer electronics to space probes so this is not such big news.

A significant difference between Windriver and Microsoft is that you wont see Windriver advertising their OS with stickers on the product. So perhaps your television at home is with VxWorks from Windriver but you can't see it.

Thus you usually hear about their software when it gets into some high profile projects like the Mars probes (VxWorks) or like this; a Boeing aircraft (Linux) and the customer will allow Windriver to go public with it.

The reliability of an OS used in some of these embedded applications has to be far higher than what you find with a Microsoft OS. For example, a safety critical software application like the fly-by-wire system onboard an Airbus A3XX (e.g. the new A380) controlling the flaps and other vital controls, can not rely on consumer OS like Windows XP that was designed with focus on time to market and flexibility. Nobody would like a simple OS crash to cause death of 100s of people.

The particular application sounds like mission critical but not safety critical. Still high reliability is important and probably a reason to choose that Linux version.
Posted by peter.mortensen (119 comments )
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