Another criticism of Linux is that it lacks a support structure. However, commercial Linux distribution vendors certainly offer support for desktop, server, and now embedded systems. There are four predominant commercial embedded Linux vendors:
These vendors are quick to point out that they offer products based on Linux that they are not just packaging and support organizations. This is true. These vendors offer, as a base product, an embedded Linux toolkit, which at a minimum configures and compiles the kernel, configures and builds a root filesystem, and offers instruction through documentation.
Jerry Epplin reviews these four vendors' toolkits at www.linuxdevices.com.3
This embedded Linux toolkit operates on a host computer, typically a Red Hat machine, and can compile the kernel and other tools for various target platforms, such as x86, ARM, PowerPC, MIPS, SuperH, and XScale. These vendors offer free downloads or evaluation versions of their embedded Linux toolkits. Their business model builds upon their base toolkits to offer products that extend their toolkits' capabilities (for example, MontaVista's Library Optimizer or Lineo's GPL Compliance Toolset). In addition to their toolkits and additional product offerings, each vendor offers design, consulting, and engineering services.
On the surface, these vendors' offerings might seem identical. However, through conversation or the use of their free or evaluation toolkits, you will learn of their uniqueness. If you are concerned about vendor assistance with your product design, you can visit the Web sites and call the vendors. If you have the time, you can attend an embedded systems conference and visit with the vendors; this will enable you to meet key people within each organization and allow you to discuss your design in detail with company engineers. Often at conferences you can meet the developers who are responsible for the code your design will rely on. If the vendors can attach your face to your name, you just might get better customer service. If you need design assistance, these vendors are ready and anxious to help.