The quest for Linux friendly embedded board makers

Beagle Bone Black boardWe used to keep a list of Linux friendly embedded board makers. When this page was created in the mid 2000s, this page was easy to maintain. Though more and more products were created with Linux, it was still difficult to find good hardware platforms that were supported by Linux.

So, to help community members and system makers selecting hardware for their embedded Linux projects, we compiled a first selection of board makers that were meeting the below criteria:

  • Offering attractive and competitive products
  • At least one product supported Free Software operating systems (such as Linux, eCos and NetBSD.
  • At least one product meeting the above requirements, with a public price (without having to register), and still available on the market.
  • Specifications and documentation directly available on the website (no registration required). Engineers like to study their options on their own without having to share their contact details with salespeople who would then chase them through their entire life, trying to sell inappropriate products to them.
  • Website with an English version.

In the beginning, this was enough to reduce the list to 10-20 entries. However, as Linux continued to increase in popularity, and as hardware platform makers started to understand the value of transparent pricing and technical documentation, the criteria were no longer sufficient to keep the list manageable.

Therefore, we added another prerequisite: at least one product supported (at least partially) in the official version of the corresponding Free Software operating system kernel. This was a rather strong requirement at first, but only such products bring a guarantee for long term community support, making it much easier to develop and maintain embedded systems. Compare this with hardware supporting only a very old and heavily patched Linux kernel, for example, which software can only be maintained by its original developers. This also reveals the ability of the hardware vendor to work with the community and share technical information with its users and developers.

Then, with the development of low-cost community boards, and chip manufacturers efforts to support their hardware in the mainline Linux kernel, the list again became difficult to maintain.

The next prerequisite we could add is the availability as Open-source hardware, allowing customers to modify the hardware according to their needs. Of course, hardware files should be available without registration.

However, rather than keeping our own list, the best is to contribute to Wikipedia, which has a dedicated page on Open-Source computing hardware. At least, all the boards we could find are listed there, after adding a few.

Don’t hesitate to post comments to this page to share information about hardware which could be worth adding to this Wikipedia page!

Anyway, the good news is that Linux and Open-Source friendly hardware is now easier and easier to find than it was about 10 years back. Just have a preference for hardware that is supported in the mainline Linux kernel sources, or at least from a maker with earlier products which are already supported. A git grep -i command in the sources will help.

Embedded Linux internships at Free Electrons in 2016

Penguin worksFree Electrons has internship topics to propose to people studying in French Universities or Engineering Schools:

If you already have a project related to embedded Linux you would like to contribute to, we are also open to your own suggestions!

See all details on our blog post in French.

Linux 4.2 released, Free Electrons contributions inside

Adelie Penguin
Linus Torvalds has released last sunday the 4.2 release of the Linux kernel. LWN.net covered the merge window of this 4.2 release cycle in 3 parts (part 1, part 2 and part 3), giving a lot of details about the new features and important changes.

In a more recent article, LWN.net published some statistics about the 4.2 development cycle. In those statistics, Free Electrons appears as the 10th contributing company by number of patches with 203 patches integrated, and Free Electrons engineer Maxime Ripard is in the list of most active developers by changed lines, with 6000+ lines changed. See also this page for more kernel contribution statistics.

This time around, the most important contributions of Free Electrons where:

  • Support for Atmel ARM processors:
    • The effort to clean-up the arch/arm/mach-at91/ continued, now that the conversion to the Device Tree and multiplatform is completed. This was mainly done by Alexandre Belloni.
    • Support for the ACME Systems Arietta G25 was added by Alexandre Belloni.
    • Support for the RTC on at91sam9rlek was also added by Alexandre Belloni.
    • Significant improvements were brought to the dmaengine xdmac and hdmac drivers (used on Atmel SAMA5D3 and SAMA5D4), bringing interleaved support, memset support, and better performance for certain use cases. This was done by Maxime Ripard.
  • Support for Marvell Berlin ARM processors:
    • In preparation to the addition of a driver for the ADC, an important refactoring of the reset, clock and pinctrl driver was done by using a regmap and the syscon mechanism to more easily share the common registers used by those drivers. Worked done by Antoine Ténart.
    • An IIO driver for the ADC was contributed, which relies on the syscon and regmap mentioned above, as the ADC uses registers that are mixed with the clock, reset and pinctrl ones.
    • The Device Tree files were relicensed under GPLv2 and X11 licenses.
  • Support for Marvell EBU ARM processors:
    • A completely new driver for the CESA cryptographic engine was contributed by Boris Brezillon. This driver aims at replacing the old mv_cesa drivers, by supporting the newer features of the cryptographic engine available in recent Marvell EBU SoCs (DMA, new ciphers, etc.). The driver is backward compatible with the older processors, so it will be a full replacement for mv_cesa.
    • A big cleanup/verification work was done on the pinctrl drivers for Armada 370, 375, 38x, 39x and XP, leading to a number of fixes to pin definitions. This was done by Thomas Petazzoni.
    • Various fixes were made (suspend/resume improvements, big endian usage, SPI, etc.).
  • Support for the Allwinner ARM processors:
    • Support for the AXP22x PMIC was added by Boris Brezillon, including the support for the regulators provided by this PMIC. This PMIC is used on a significant number of Allwinner designs.
    • A small number of Device Tree files were relicensed under GPLv2 and X11 licenses.
    • A big cleanup of the Device Tree files was done by using more aggressively the “DT label based syntax”
    • A new driver, sunxi_sram, was added to support the SRAM memories available in some Allwinner processors.
  • RTC subsystem:
    • As was announced recently, Free Electrons engineer Alexandre Belloni is now the co-maintainer of the RTC subsystem. He has set up a Git repository at https://git.kernel.org/cgit/linux/kernel/git/abelloni/linux.git/ to maintain this subsystem. During the 4.2 release cycle, 46 patches were merged in the drivers/rtc/ directory: 7 were authored by Alexandre, and all other patches (with the exception of two) were merged by Alexandre, and pushed to Linus.

The full details of our contributions:

Free Electrons talks at the Embedded Linux Conference Europe

Father Mathew BridgeThe Embedded Linux Conference Europe 2015 will take place on October 5-7 in Dublin, Ireland. As usual, the entire Free Electrons engineering team will participate to the event, as we believe it is one of the great way for our engineers to remain up-to-date with the latest embedded Linux developments and connect with other embedded Linux and kernel developers.

The conference schedule has been announced recently, and a number of talks given by Free Electrons engineers have been accepted:

We submitted other talks that got rejected, probably since both of them had already been given at the Embedded Linux Conference in California: Maxime Ripard’s talk on dmaengine and Boris Brezillon’s talk on supporting MLC NAND (which we regret since Boris is currently actively working on this topic, so we are expecting to have some useful results by the time of ELCE, compared to his ELC talk which was mostly a presentation of the issues and some proposals to address them). Interested readers can anyway watch those talks and/or read the slides.

In addition to the Embedded Linux Conference Europe itself:

  • Thomas Petazzoni will participate to the Buildroot developers meeting on October 3/4, right before the conference.
  • Alexandre Belloni will participate to the OEDEM, the 2015 OpenEmbedded Developer’s European Meeting, taking place on October 9 after the conference.

Linux 4.1 released, Free Electrons 17th contributing company

TuxLinus Torvalds recently released the 4.1 Linux kernel, for which LWN.net gave a good description of the major new features: 4.1 Merge window, part 1, 4.1 Merge window, part 2, The 4.1 merge window closes.

As usual, Free Electrons engineers contributed to the Linux kernel during this development cycle, though this time with a smaller number of patches: we contributed 118 patches. This time around, Free Electrons is the 17th company contributing to this kernel release, by number of patches.

Our major contributions this time around have been:

  • On support for Atmel platforms
    • Alexandre Belloni did a good number of improvements to Atmel SoC support: converting some remaining SoCs to the SoC detection infrastructure, cleaning up the timer driver to use a syscon/regmap, removing a lot of unused headers in arch/arm/mach-at91/, etc. The final and very important change is that the AT91 ARM platform is now part of the multiplatform mechanism: you can build a single zImage for ARMv5 or for ARMv7 which will include support for the ARMv5 or ARMv7 Atmel platforms.
    • Boris Brezillon improved the Atmel DRM/KMS driver for the display controller by switching to atomic mode-setting. He also added Device Tree definitions for the Atmel display controller on Atmel SAMA5D3 and Atmel SAMA5D4.
  • On support for Marvell EBU platforms
    • Ezequiel Garcia enabled the Performance Monitor Unit on Armada 375 and Armada 38x, which allows to use perf on those platforms.
    • Gregory Clement did a number of fixes and minor improvements to support for Marvell EBU platforms.
    • Maxime Ripard enabled the Performance Monitoring Unit on Armada 370/XP, enabling the use of perf on these platforms. He also improved support for the Armada 385 AP board by enabling NAND and USB3 support.
    • Thomas Petazzoni added initial support for the new Marvell Armada 39x platform (clock driver, pinctrl driver, Device Tree). He did some cleanup and fixes in many Device Tree of Marvell EBU platforms and added suspend/resume support in the PCI and pinctrl drivers for these platforms.
  • Other contributions
    • As we posted recently, Alexandre Belloni also became in this release cycle a co-maintainer for the RTC subsystem.
    • Alexandre Belloni added bq27510 support for the bq27x00_battery driver.
    • Maxime Ripard did some small contributions to the dmaengine subsystem, improved the of_touchscreen code and the edt-ft5x06 touchscreen driver, and did some cleanup in the Allwinner sun5i clocksource driver.

For the upcoming 4.2 version, we have 198 patches in linux-next, of which 191 have already been pulled by Linus as part of the 4.2 merge window.

Our complete list of contributions follows:

Free Electrons working on the $9 C.H.I.P. computer

C.H.I.P computer

If you’re following the news about embedded Linux and new cool development platforms, you for sure couldn’t miss the announcement on the world’s first $9 computer. This computer, called C.H.I.P., was started through a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter and reception in the Free Software and Open Source community has been very positive. Out of an initial funding goal of $50,000, NextThing Co, the Oakland, California based company creating this product eventually managed to raise more $2,000,000 of funding.

NextThing Co announced their intention to support the platform in the most open way possible: the schematics will be made available, and it will be supported in the mainline Linux kernel.

It turns out that the processor NextThing Co has chosen for this platform is an Allwinner R8 processor. Free Electrons has been working since several years on supporting Allwinner processors in the mainline Linux kernel: our engineer Maxime Ripard is the maintainer of the Allwinner SoC support.

Thanks to this long term involvement, Free Electrons has been asked by NextThing Co to work with them to support the C.H.I.P. computer in the mainline Linux kernel, and in the process bring some significant improvements to the support of Allwinner processors in the kernel.

C.H.I.P, world first $9 computer

NextThing Co announced recently our collaboration in a blog post on Kickstarter:

We’re incredibly excited to announce that we’ve partnered with one of the premier contributors to ARM Linux: Free Electrons! We will be collaborating with their amazing team of ARM Linux engineers, and of course our Kernel Hacker backers to help us test and mainline C.H.I.P.’s kernel modifications as we move forward.

Free Electrons is also very excited to be working with NextThing Co on this project! Thanks to this, over the next months, we will have a very substantial amount of time dedicated to this project, and we will regularly push code to support the missing hardware Allwinner SoC hardware blocks in the mainline Linux kernel and to support the C.H.I.P. board.

Pocket C.H.I.P

More details about the C.H.I.P:

  • Availability planned for 2016 for the general public. A selection of 1000 kernel hackers who backed on Kickstarter will have the platform earlier.
  • Very small platform: 40mm x 60mm, making is even smaller than a Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone.
  • Allwinner R8 processor, clocked at 1 Ghz, and offering OpenGL/OpenVG acceleration through an ARM Mali GPU
  • 512 MB of RAM
  • 4GB of on-board NAND flash storage
  • WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 to connect the system to the outside world
  • One USB host port
  • Powered through a micro USB connector which also supports USB OTG (either USB host or device).
  • Jack connector for composite video out, headphones and microphone input.
  • Many headers to connect external devices (SPI, I2C, UART + 8 GPIOs)
  • Integrated circuit for charging a LiPo battery and being powered by it
  • Additional HDMI or VGA add-on boards will be needed to connect to displays with the corresponding connectivity.

Free Electrons engineer Alexandre Belloni co-maintainer of Linux Atmel processor support

Atmel SAMA5After becoming the co-maintainer of the Linux RTC subsystem, Free Electrons engineer Alexandre Belloni also recently became a co-maintainer for the support of Atmel ARM processors in the Linux kernel.

Free Electrons has been working since early 2014 with Atmel to improve support for their processors in the mainline kernel. Since this date, our work has mainly consisted in:

  • Modernizing existing code for Atmel processors: complete the switch to the Device Tree and the common clock framework for all platforms, rework all that was needed to make Atmel processor support compatible with the ARM multiplatform kernel, and do a lot of related driver and platform refactoring.
  • Implement a complete DRM/KMS driver for the display subsystem of the most recent Atmel processors.
  • Upstream support for the Atmel SAMA5D4, the latest Cortex-A5 based SoC from Atmel.

Thanks to this long-term involvement from Alexandre Belloni and Boris Brezillon, Alexandre was appointed as a co-maintainer of Atmel support, replacing Andrew Victor who hasn’t been active in kernel development since quite some time. He is joining Nicolas Ferre and Jean-Christophe Plagniol-Villard in the team of maintainers for the Atmel platform.

Alexandre has sent his first pull request as an Atmel co-maintainer on May 22, sending 9 patches to the ARM SoC maintainers, planned for the 4.2 kernel release. His pull request was quickly merged by ARM SoC maintainer Arnd Bergmann.

Free Electrons is proud to have one of its engineers as the maintainer of one very popular embedded Linux platform, which has had since many years a strong commitment of upstream Linux kernel support. Alexandre is the third Free Electrons engineer to become an ARM platform maintainer: Maxime Ripard is the maintainer of Allwinner ARM processor support, and Gregory Clement is the co-maintainer of Marvell EBU ARM processor support.

Embedded Linux Projects Using Yocto Project Cookbook

Embedded Linux Projects Using Yocto Project Cookbook Cover

We were kindly provided a copy of Embedded Linux Projects Using Yocto Project Cookbook, written by Alex González. It is available at Packt Publishing, either in an electronic format (DRM free) or printed.

It is written as a cookbook so it is a set of recipes that you can refer to and solve your immediate problems instead of reading it from cover to cover. While, as indicated by the title, the main topic is embedded development using Yocto Project, the book also includes generic embedded Linux tips, like debugging the kernel with ftrace or debugging a device tree from U-Boot.

The chapters cover the following topics:

  • The Build System: an introduction to Yocto Project.
  • The BSP Layer: how to build and customize the bootloader and the Linux kernel, plenty of tips on how to debug kernel related issues.
  • The Software layer: covers adding a package and its configuration, selecting the initialization manager and making a release while complying with the various licenses.
  • Application development: using the SDK, various IDEs (Eclipse, Qt creator), build systems (make, CMake, SCons).
  • Debugging, Tracing and Profiling: great examples and tips for the usage of gdb, strace, perf, systemtap, OProfile, LTTng and blktrace.

The structure of the book makes it is easy to find the answers you are looking for and also explains the underlying concepts of the solution. It is definitively of good value once you start using Yocto Project.

Free Electrons is also offering a Yocto Project and OpenEmbedded training course (detailed agenda) to help you start with your projects. If you’re interested, join one of the upcoming public training sessions, or order a session at your location!

Embedded Linux and kernel job openings for 2015

At Free Electrons, we are starting to get more and more requests for very cool projects. As it can be very frustrating to turn down very interesting opportunities (such as projects that allow us to contribute to the Linux kernel, Buildroot or Yocto Projects), we have decided to look for new engineers to join our technical team.

Job description in a nutshell

  • Technical aspects: mainline Linux kernel development, Linux BSP and embedded Linux system integration, technical training
  • Location: working in one of our offices in France (Toulouse or Orange)
  • Contract: full-time, permanent French contract

Mainline Linux kernel development

Believe it or not, we now have an increasing number of customers contracting us to support their hardware in the mainline Linux kernel. They are either System on Chip manufacturers or systems makers, who now understand the strong advantages brought by mainline Linux kernel support to their customers and to themselves.

You can see the results: Free Electrons is now consistently in the top 20 companies contributing to the Linux kernel. We are even number 6 for Linux 4.0!

Note that this job doesn’t only require technical skills. It also has a strong social dimension, having to go through multiple iterations with the community and with kernel subsystem maintainers to get your code accepted upstream.

Linux BSP and embedded Linux system integration

Such activity involves developing and integrating everything that’s needed to deploy Linux on the customer hardware: bootloader, kernel, build environment (such as Buildroot or the Yocto project), upgrade system, optimizing performance (such as boot time) and fixing issues. Another way is to provide guidance and support to customer learning to do such a job.

As opposed to Linux kernel development projects which are often long term ones (though with step by step objectives which can be reached in days), these are usually shorter and more challenging projects. They allow us to stay in touch with the real-life challenges that customer engineers face every day, and that require to achieve substantial results in a relatively small number of days.

Such projects also constitute opportunities to contribute improvements to the mainline kernel and bootloader projects, as well to the build system projects themselves (Buildroot, Yocto Project, OpenWRT…).

Training and sharing experience

Knowledge sharing is an important part of Free Electrons mission and activity. Hence, after gaining sufficient on-the-job experience, another important aspect of the job is teaching, maintaining and improving Free Electrons training courses.

You will also be strongly incited to share your technical experience by writing blog posts or kernel documentation, and by proposing talks at international conferences, especially the Embedded Linux Conference (USA, Europe).

Profile

  • Experience: we are open to both experienced engineers and people just out of engineering schools. Though prior experience with the technical topics will be an advantage, we are also interested in young engineers demonstrating great potential for learning, coding and knowledge sharing. People having made visible contributions in these areas will have an advantage too.
  • Language skills: fluency in oral and written English is very important. French speaking skills won’t be a requirement, but an advantage too.
  • Traveling: for training sessions and conference participation, you will need the ability to travel rather frequently, up to 8-10 times a year.
  • Ability to relocate, to one of our offices in France, either in Toulouse or in Orange, to strengthen our engineering teams here.

Details about Toulouse and Orange

  • Toulouse is a dynamic city with lots of high-tech and embedded systems companies in particular. Our office in Colomiers can easily be reached by train from downtown Toulouse if you wish to settle there. You would be working with Boris Brezillon, Antoine Ténart, Maxime Ripard and our CTO Thomas Petazzoni.
  • Our main office is settled in Orange in the heart of the Provence region, close to Avignon, a smaller but dynamic city too. It enjoys a sunny climate and the proximity of the Alps and the Mediterranean sea. Accommodation is very affordable and there are no traffic issues! You would be working with our founder Michael Opdenacker and of course remotely with the rest of the engineering team. In particular, we are interested in foreign engineers who could help us develop our services in their home countries.

We prefer not to offer home based positions for the moment, which have their own complexity and cost, while we have plenty of space left in our current offices.

See a full description and details about how to contact us.

Free Electrons engineer Alexandre Belloni co-maintainer of the Linux RTC subsystem

SparkFun Real Time Clock ModuleThe Linux RTC subsystem supports the Real Time Clock drivers for a large number of platforms and I2C or SPI based Real Time Clocks: it contains about 140 different device drivers, plus the RTC core itself. The current maintainer, Alessandro Zummo, had unfortunately very little time to address all the patches that were sent, and many of them where usually handled by Andrew Morton, acting as a fallback for various parts of the kernel that are not enough actively maintained.

To address this lack of maintainer time, Free Electrons engineer Alexandre Belloni recently became a co-maintainer of the RTC subsystem, as can be seen in this patch to the MAINTAINERS file. Alexandre has already started his work by cleaning up the patchwork instance listing all the pending RTC patches, reducing the number of pending patches from 2843 to 436, actively applying new patches being posted, and reviving old patches that never got any attention.

Up to the 4.1 release included, RTC patches will flow to Linus Torvalds through Andrew Morton, but starting from Linux 4.2, Alexandre will start sending his pull requests directly to Linus.