So, what gives with all this embedded and realtime stuff? I've been at the Embedded Systems Conference in Boston this week, and I am really quite shocked at the fact that everybody I talked to about it -- outside the conference -- was also involved in, or at least watching the RTOS and embedded fields. In fact, I spoke with an old friend of mine who lives in the area and happens to work on a project involving airborne lasers (before you ask, apparently they are quite tired of the "frickin lazerbeams" jokes). It turns out that they're very interested in RTOS applications, and have been working with Linux on a 200mhz-ish Geode. I won't comment on the performance, other than to say it wasn't great. However, I am concerned that while the performance of CE is in fact quite good (7-10 microseconds), I have heard from people at the ESC that the code is something of a nightmare (the plan is to go into said code in detail when I get back to the office). It seems that many of the new devices we're basing technological progress on are having ever more complex "processing" requirements. One of the instructors at the conference said that a new BMW will have as many as 75 processors in it, and in fact has a data bus (that part I knew). Many of these devices are either safety-critical, or space/weight/heat constrained. So we start seeing operating systems everywhere. It's really quite fascinating, and when I took this job, I never expected that the embedded sector would be so active. However, it appears that I have a pretty interesting decade or so ahead of me.
So I noticed another thing at the event. I generally keep a pretty low profile, wear my badge out of the way, don't wear the company logo-wear, etc. It's not because I'm necessarily embarassed to work for Microsoft, it's just that it gets in the way of reasonable discourse for it to come up. I generally prefer to talk to somebody for a while, and only mention it if somebody actually asks me. People are generally surprised at it, and the question of "Well, so what brought a Unix guy to work at Microsoft?" Anyways, I was actually at a competitor's display at ESC, talking to them about the system they were demo'ing. They had a low-power PPC chip using a TOE to spit about 850mbit, using 40% CPU (that seems pretty crummy to me, but I don't know enough about the CPU they're using to really assess that). We got to talking about their (Linux) product, and some of the things they were doing, what they thought their roadmap was, etc. The guy makes a pretty obvious glance down at my badge (which I was wearing off my belt, rather than about my neck like most of the attendees). Mood immediately changed. What had been a lively conversation became sharp disinterest on his part. The guy became downright rude. Now, correct me if I'm wrong here, but isn't everybody at this event a competitor? I mean AMD is there, Intel is there, and they're not fighting with eachother. This sort of scenario was actually repeated a few times. It was pretty surprising for me. I can't understand why a Microsoft employee showing up at a Linux event would be a bad thing. People screech at us to not be such myopic, navel-gazing tyrants, and when somebody does actually come out and see what's going on in the community, this is a bad thing? Sigh. I suppose assholes are everywhere.
Good ESC speakers: David Kalinsky, Bruce Douglass from iLogix, and Celia Santander.
Kashmir indian restaurant on Newbury street in Boston is quite good. Tealuxe, also in the same neighborhood, has a great Yunnan tea.
Redmond next week (not going to make it to Heidelberg), followed by ARM conference in norcal, followed by another hike up to Redmond, and then some much needed vacation.