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Linux headed into Boeing antisub aircraft

Aerospace giant will embed Wind River's version of Linux into the U.S. Navy's P-8A aircraft. Image: P-8A Multi-Mission Maritime 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.