Are you a home-grown Linux user?

Or do you use a commercial-grade Linux distro provided by a third party such as MontaVista?

It’s customary to present this as a binary choice. But in the real world of the embedded developer, it’s becoming increasingly common for development teams to be both home-grown and commercial Linux users. And there’s one very good reason for this: the Yocto Project.

The Yocto Project has given an extraordinary boost to the early-stage productivity of developers. By using a Yocto Project-compatible distro provided by an SoC manufacturer, or by using the Yocto Project to build their own Linux distro, developers can massively reduce the interval between creating a product idea and starting development of the application.

So a Yocto Project Linux is a great way to start an embedded development.

But is it a great way to finish it?

It’s easy to underestimate or even overlook the costs and risks associated with maintenance and support of a production-grade Linux distribution. When a hardware product is shipped, the Linux operating system on which it runs has to be stable, bug-free, and resistant to malware and other security threats.

Now in a new white paper, MontaVista has itemized the costs of maintenance and support over the lifetime of a typical commercial or industrial embedded device. The calculation depends to some extent on a project’s complexity, but it shows that there is typically very little cost advantage in maintaining an in-house Linux OS compared to the cost of licensing a commercial-grade Linux distro from a provider such as MontaVista.

And the decision is not just about costs: maintaining a home-grown Linux environment entails schedule, quality, and compliance risks that are eliminated by the use of a guaranteed commercial-grade distro.

On the grounds of stability, security and reliability, there is a clear argument in favour of commercial Linux for production implementations of a product design. For prototyping, however, many developers still find a Yocto Project distro provides the quickest, easiest route to first hardware.

Which is why the old binary choice – home-grown or commercial Linux?  - is binary no longer: more and more development teams will, in fact, use each at the appropriate stage of development.


Jim Gallagher
Senior Marketing Team Lead, MontaVista Software, LLC.

Tim Weeks
Senior Consultant, TKO Marketing Consultants Ltd.