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MontaVista beats real-time Linux deadline

Embedded-Linux company says it's created technology that lets people slam the brakes on Linux in a computing emergency.

MontaVista Software, a company that sells Linux for embedded computing devices such as telecommunications gear, plans to announce Tuesday that it's hit a speed goal earlier than expected.

The company is working on building "hard real-time" support in Linux, which guarantees that the operating system will respond within a short, fixed amount of time to high-priority interruptions. The feature, typically only found in specialized operating systems, is useful in machines such as precisely controlled factory robots or computing gear that handles network packets.

To meet real-time requirements, an operating system must have a short response time, called latency. MontaVista's work, which also includes outside Linux programmers, has achieved latency of 98 microseconds, or millionths of a second. That's about 100 times better than version 2.6.10 of the standard Linux kernel, according to the company.

MontaVista plans to announce the milestone in its real-time Linux project on Tuesday. "We did it two quarters ahead of schedule," said Peder Ulander, MontaVista's vice president of marketing.

The real-time changes will be incorporated into MontaVista's future Linux product for telecommunications equipment, the company said.

There's still work to do, however. "We are not all the way down there," with the faster response time required by something like a smart bomb or a car's antilock braking system, Ulander said.

Linux's average time, as measured with various speed tests, ranged from 16 to 34 microseconds, Ulander said. Real-time operating systems such as Mentor Graphics' VRTX--developed in part by MontaVista founder Jim Ready--and Wind River's VxWorks--have average latencies in the 8 to 13 microsecond range.

Wind River had shunned Linux for years but now has an active program to embrace the open-source operating system as an alternative to VxWorks.