New BSPs for QNX Neutrino RTOS

The engineers in the QNX hardware team are constantly adding support for new embedded platforms from AMCC, Atmel, Advantech, Freescale, Intel, Marvell, Renesas, TI, and a number of other vendors.

To keep up-to-date on which boards the QNX Neutrino RTOS supports, you could try visiting the BSP directory on Foundry27.com on a regular basis. Or you could take the easy route and simply subscribe to the QNX Source newsletter. Every month, the newsletter provides the skinny on new product releases, new patches, new webinars, and, of course, new board support packages.

For instance, the latest issue of the newsletter announced the availability of the following BSPs:

Atmel AT91SAM9M10-EK
Freescale i.MX51 EVK
Freescale P1020RDB-PA
Freescale P2010RDB-PA
Freescale P2020DS-PA
Freescale P2020RDB-PA
Freescale P4080DS-PA

To subscribe to the QNX Source newsletter, click here.


Critter of the week: Chipmunk

Chipmunks are cute, but tough. A few years ago, I saw one dive repeatedly into an underground bumblebee nest to feast on the colony's larvae. The bees, no surprise, went on the counterattack. In response, the chipmunk would shoot out of the nest like a rocket, shake himself off, and dive right back in.

Mind you, even the toughest rodent knows that a painless meal is preferable to a painful one. Which explains why the chipmunk in this picture has decided that our bird feeder, stuffed with sunflower seeds, is his personal larder:

Click to enlarge.

Don't think, though, that chipmunks restrict their diet to seeds and the occasional insect. They may also eat fungi, eggs, frogs, worms, and, according to some accounts, the occasional small bird or mammal. They will even eat small snakes.

As for big snakes, they eat chipmunks. That's nature for you.


Webinar: Simplifying software integration with publish/subscribe technology

A few weeks ago, I published a two-part series on QNX publish/subscribe technology and discussed how it can offer several advantages over the direct, point-to-point connections often used for interprocess communication. Compared to these "brittle" approaches, which tend to break when new features or requirements are introduced, pubslish/subscribe technology allows developers to create loose, flexible connections between software components. As a result, it becomes much easier to add, remove, or replace components without having to modify other components.

If that sounds like something you could use in your software design, check out today's webinar -- "Simplify your integration: Persistent Publish/Subscribe for embedded industrial applications" -- at 12:00 pm ET.

This is a joint webinar between QNX and Texas Instruments. For more information, click here. To register, click here.

And remember, if you miss the webinar, you'll still be able to view an archived version in the coming days.


Do most Flash sites need to be rewritten to work on touch-based devices?

Steve Jobs believes the answer is yes. But not everyone agrees, including my colleague Andy Gryc, who has posted a response to Jobs' comments on Flash, and Lee Brimelow, a platform evangelist at Adobe. In fact, Brimelow went one further and posted a video demonstrating that Flash sites do in fact work with touch devices.

Here's the video:

For more details, read Brimelow's blog post.

Dissenting thoughts on "Thoughts on Flash"

In his recent open letter, Steve Jobs voiced some strong opinions about the Adobe Flash platform. Among other things, he accused it of being closed, insecure, and power hungry. But are his claims substantiated?

Not according to my colleague Andy Gryc. Earlier today, Andy posted a blog that looks at Mr. Jobs' arguments and comes to very different conclusions. You can read Andy's blog here.


30 years of QNX: Dawn of the Internet appliance

Hey, remember when companies thought they could make scads of money selling $500 Internet appliances? The fad, which peaked in the year 2000, lasted about as long as pet rocks. The devices may have been cool, but the market response to them was even cooler.

QNX provided the OS and windowing system for a number of Internet appliances, including the 3Com Audrey, perhaps the most sophisticated Internet appliance ever built. The Audrey lasted only 7 months before being pulled from the shelves, but subsequently became a popular platform among hardware hackers.

Other QNX-based appliances included the iOpener:

The SurfTV device from France:

The HomePilot iAppliance/home automation device from Norway:

An Internet-enabled TV from Loewe in Germany:

And let’s not forget NatSemi’s WebPad reference platform — think of it as the great, great grandaddy of today's tablet computers:

QNX gets a Jolt
To target this market, QNX introduced the QNX Internet Appliance Toolkit, which came complete with a customizable web browser, email client, Internet dialer, personal information manager, and other goodies. In 1997, the kit won a Jolt productivity award.

p.s. 3com named the Audrey in honor of Audrey Hepburn. The connection, however, eludes me. Does anyone know why 3com decided to name the device after her?


30 years of QNX: QNX dips finger into handheld market

Now here’s something that even longtime QNX employees have forgotten about: QNX Software Systems’ first foray into the world of handheld devices.

Back in the late 1990s, QNX and AMD up teamed to create a preintegrated reference platform for mobile and handheld developers. For its part, QNX provided the QNX In-Hand Toolkit, which included the QNX RTOS, the Photon microGUI windowing system, an HTML 3.2 web browser, an email client, and a personal information manager. On the hardware side, AMD provided the uforCE demonstration system, which sported an √ČlanSC400 processor, 4M of flash memory, 16M of DRAM, a 64-key matrix keyboard, and a 480x320 resistive LCD display.

Here’s a photo of the system, running a QNX web browser:

Click to enlarge.

The QNX developers working to this project were asked to build the same level of functionality found in Windows CE palmtops. They met the goal in only 4 weeks, using applications that QNX had already developed. The work consisted mainly of fitting the applications — browser, email, games, etc. — into the four-color 480x320 display. Everything else was off-the-shelf. Amazingly, the developers were able to fit the entire software stack, including OS, GUI, and browser, into the board's 4M of flash.

Here’s a screen capture of the user interface:

Click to enlarge.

Despite the goal of matching Windows CE functionality, QNX Software Systems wasn’t trying to target PDAs, mobile phones, or other consumer-class devices. Rather, it had its sights set on industrial-strength mobile systems. Allow me to quote from a whitepaper that QNX published back in the day:

Mention “handheld computer” and many people immediately think of consumer devices like WinCE-based PDAs and Palm Pilot organizers. But a host of vertical markets also exist for handheld computers (HHCs). Stores, factories, warehouses, and hospitals are all looking to HHCs to increase productivity, streamline operations, and speed up access to information.

In these environments, the HHC must offer functionality — and a level of reliability — that extends far beyond the scope of a personal organizer. For example, a vertical-market HHC may include components like:
  • transducers to measure physical quantities like temperature, pressure, and heart rhythm
  • barcode scanners (e.g. for parcel tracking at courier companies and stock monitoring at supermarkets)
  • printers for on-the-spot rental car receipts
The OS architecture for such an HHC must ease the integration of custom components, and do so without sacrificing reliability...

It was some years before QNX scored a major win in the handheld market. But when it came, it definitely fell into the reliable category: military radios from Harris.

These radios include the Harris Falcon III AN/PRC-152(C), hailed by the U.S. army as "one of the greatest inventions of 2007." The AN/PRC-152(C) was also the first the first NSA- and SCA-certified software defined radio (SDR).

For the QNX press release on the Harris Falcon radios, click here.

POSTSCRIPT: After writing this post, I remembered that the Harris radios weren't the only notable handheld win for QNX. It was also chosen for high-end universal remotes from Logitech. Like this one:


Can the QNX virtual mechanic help automakers restore consumer confidence?

A few months ago, I provided a guided tour of the virtual mechanic, a feature of the QNX CAR application platform and the LTE Connected Car.

Despite its name, the virtual mechanic can't fix your car. But it will tell you if a problem exists and show you where it exists. Better yet, it can provide the location of the nearest service station and tell you how to get there. All of which gives it an A+ in the convenience department.

Still, there is a bigger picture I hadn’t considered when I published my blog post back in November. And that’s because the bigger picture didn’t exist yet. Since then, the world has witnessed a large number of vehicle recalls and a huge number of headlines about said recalls — headlines that, in my opinion, tend to overinflate the problem.

Enter Roger Lanctot. An automotive analyst at Strategy Analytics, Roger believes that the virtual mechanic isn’t just a convenience, but an idea whose time has come. An idea that can improve customer relations for automakers by providing customers with realtime information on the health of their vehicles.

For Roger, only one question remains: Which automaker will be first to roll out a virtual mechanic in their product lineup? To read his blog post, click here.


Tesla predicted the BlackBerry in 1909

Yeah, I know, it sounds like a stretch. But according to the Telegraph, Nicola Tesla — you know, the guy that invented the Tesla coil — predicted the emergence of mobile phones more than a century ago.

Tesla made the prognostication in a 1909 edition of Popular Mechanics, claiming that "everyone in the world" would communicate with one another using a handheld wireless device.

I don't know about you, but if I were walking down the street in 1909 and ran into someone who made this prediction, I would have been, well, skeptical... and possibly concerned for my safety. And indeed, Tesla was seen as a mad scientist during his lifetime. But take a look at his Wikipedia article and you'll realize that his prediction about mobile phones was just one of his brilliant insights. And boy, did he have a lot of them.

To view the Telegraph article, click here.


30 years of QNX: The power of 100 Pentiums in the palm of your hand

In 1990 QNX Software Systems introduced its first windowing system, QNX Windows. In 1994 the company introduced a newer, more scalable windowing system, the QNX Photon microGUI.

Among other things, Photon was billed as a network-distributed GUI. For instance, you could:
  • interact with a Photon-based application and, at any point, beam the application's user interface to another user's machine

  • drag a Photon application from a workstation onto a handheld device (or vice versa)

  • remotely monitor or control the user interface of any other machine on the network
These capabilities might not sound that impressive now, but in 1994 they were way cool. What's more, they flowed naturally from Photon’s architecture. They were built in, not brought in.

Soon after releasing Photon, QNX introduced the Photon Application Builder, aka PhAB. Using this interactive design tool, developers can create fully functional user interfaces without writing any code. Here's a screen capture of PhAB being used to create an automotive CD player:

Click to enlarge.

So where does the power of 100 Pentiums come in? Well, I've already hinted at it. For the full skinny, check out this press release, which I unearthed from deep within the QNX archives:

QNX Software Systems Announces Photon™:
The First Microkernel Window System for HPCs and Embedded Platforms

KANATA, ONTARIO, September, 1994—QNX Software Systems Ltd., developers of the QNX realtime operating system, announced a unique window system targeted for handheld and embedded applications.

According to Rob Oakley, Corporate Communications and Product Management, "the Photon Window System is the first of its kind—a GUI built around a graphical microkernel."

QNX Software Systems designed the Photon Window System as a graphical microkernel and a team of cooperating processes, basing this design on the company's QNX OS, a microkernel network-distributed system.

Photon's cooperating processes provide the functionality to scale the system up into a full-featured windowing system or down to fit into resource-constrained environments, like handheld personal computers (HPCs) and compact embedded systems.

Photon provides a rich widget library that operates much like the X Window System widget set, with an X-inspired API. A Motif-like window manager and a code-generating, visual application builder are also available.

"Photon is extremely light and fast. It runs in only 256K, yet provides enormous GUI functionality," Oakley said.

Like the QNX OS itself, Photon is network transparent—an HPC running Photon and QNX, equipped with a wireless LAN interface, becomes a transparent extension of the LAN, able to use all the LAN's resources as if they were integrated directly into the HPC. The power this brings to the HPC user is difficult to appreciate—imagine having the power of 100 Pentiums in the palm of your hand!

According to Dan Dodge, Vice President R&D, "Photon applications are very network distributed. From the application's perspective, all the resources of all the nodes on the LAN look like a single, logical machine. The environment is so transparent that a user can drag applications from one physical screen to another."

For example, a user in a factory control environment could walk up to a computer and drag an application from the control screen onto an HPC, and then walk out onto the factory floor with it and interact with the live application.

Although Photon is aimed at compact environments, its dynamic range is extensive. "Photon's API and rich widget library can support high-performance GUI applications with enough functionality to enter the domain of X, while consuming only a fraction of the resources," said Dodge.

The QNX operating system is a POSIX-certified realtime OS for Intel and AMD processors. Scalable and modular, QNX fits a wide range of environments, from compact embedded controllers to resource-rich X-based development systems, to distributed realtime systems running hundreds of CPUs.


Since then, much has changed. The QNX Neutrino RTOS is still POSIX-certified, but now runs on a variety of processor architectures, including ARM, MIPS, POWER, SH-4, and, x86. And while QNX Software Systems still supports the Photon microGUI, it has expanded its HMI offerings to include Adobe Flash, HTML 5, and OpenGL ES.


Critter of the week: White-throated sparrow

The white-tailed sparrow comes in two models: white-striped and tan-striped. The first model, seen here, has black and white head stripes, whereas the other model has brown and tan head stripes. Technically, this is known as plumage polymorphism — but I only talk that way when I'm trying to be uppity.

Click to enlarge.

Now here is where things get interesting. The white-striped members of this species defend their territory more aggressively than their tan-striped brothers and sisters. On the other hand, the tan-striped individuals take better care of their young. So, if you were a baby white-throated sparrow, which parental style would better ensure your survival?

Don't try answering, because it's a trick question. White-striped individuals almost always mate with tan-striped individuals, and vice versa. So, as a baby sparrow, you always benefit from both parental styles.

White-throated sparrows tend to stay near the ground, but I tricked this one into posing at eye level by placing some sunflowers seeds on a fence post.

For more information on the white-throated sparrow:

- Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

- Cornell Lab of Ornithology

- Wikipedia