Unlike PCs and mobile devices, there’s a wide variety of commercial and open source operating systems powering the IoT. Here are eight leading contenders and the best use-cases for them.
The tech industry is spending a great deal of time focusing its efforts on the Internet of Things (IoT) boom. Both for-profit technology companies and open source community members are promoting their operating system as the one to choose for a multitude of IoT purposes. But the fact is, not every OS is ideal for every IoT use. Because of this, there’s going to be some variety in the IoT OS space.
When the topic of IoT and operating systems comes up in IT circles, you often hear the term “embedded operating system” used interchangeably with “real-time operating system” (RTOS). But in reality, some embedded operating systems have real-time capabilities, while others do not.
True RTOS IoT devices demand data be processed without buffering delays. The benefits of an RTOS include the ability to multitask, to schedule and prioritize tasks, and to manage the sharing of resources among multiple tasks. These operating systems are commonly used in more sophisticated aviation, industrial, and healthcare IoT devices.
On the other end of the spectrum we have operating systems that are less sophisticated, yet still fully capable, with the added benefits of lower power consumption and fewer resource needs, such as processing power and RAM. In all likelihood, the growth rate for operating systems such as these will be greater than for RTOS — at least for the first generation of IoT devices.
We’re going to take a look at eight different operating systems that we believe will power the IoT industry. While there are plenty of alternatives not included, this list represents the wide-ranging spectrum of OS capabilities, as well as some open source vs. commercial offerings available. In the end, they exemplify operating systems that can power everything from a satellite to a connected refrigerator, all the way down to smart technology embedded in watches and clothing.
Take a look at the following pages to find out more about the various operating systems and companies/communities surrounding them. Afterward, let us know which ones you think will have the biggest impact on IoT — or if you think we missed one or two that should have made our list.
RIOT OS is an open source community project that has been ongoing since 2008. RIOT is capable of running on a variety of platforms including embedded devices and PCs (and a large number of the most popular sensor/actuator boards), and has an easy-to-use API. The OS is well known for its ability to be efficient in terms of power usage and resource requirements.
Windows 10 For IoT
Microsoft’s latest embedded OS is known as Windows 10 for IoT. Under this umbrella, there are three subset operating systems available, depending on your needs. First is Windows 10 for IoT Mobile, which supports the ARM architecture. Next is Windows 10 for IoT Core, which supports Raspberry Pi and Intel Atom. Last, you have Windows 10 for IoT Enterprise — more or less full-blown Windows 10 Enterprise, but restricted to running a single application.
Probably the most popular commercial RTOS used today is WindRiver’s VxWorks. It provides a robust OS that’s highly scalable. VxWorks also provides a great number of security features that are critical for IoT projects that demand them. VxWorks is very well-known in the industrial, medical, and aerospace fields because it is one of the few RTOS vendors that have met the necessary certification requirements to be used in those industries
Last fall at the Google I/O conference, Google announced its intention to enter the embedded OS market by introducing Brillo. The developer platform for an Android-based embedded OS is great for those who have extensive backgrounds programming Android apps. Brillo uses a communications protocol called Weave. This means that smart devices don’t necessarily have to have embedded Android as their OS — they only have to have the ability to communicate using Weave. This opens the door to a lot more vendors incorporating Weave in their IoT products — ultimately making them Brillo-compatible.
ARM Mbed OS
ARM is developing its own open source embedded OS called mbed OS. Since it’s being developed by ARM, that’s the only architecture supported. That said, the OS is expected to make a splash in the smart-home and wearable-device IoT segments. The OS differs from many other embedded operating systems because it’s single-threaded — as opposed to multi-threaded. ARM says it feels this is necessary for it to be able to run on the smallest and lowest-power devices out there. If physical size and battery life are critical, the IoT device may end up running on the mbed OS.
Embedded Apple iOS And OS X
While Apple has yet to play a significant role in today’s IoT market, it certainly is expected to do so very soon. Up to this point, Apple has adopted variants of its iOS platform and created IoT devices such as Apple TV, CarPlay (with the help of BlackBerry QNX), and the Apple Watch.
Moving forward, Apple is expected to continue its use of iOS — and to modify OS X so that it runs leaner and more efficiently on IoT endpoints. Developers use tools such as the recently released HomeKit — a framework used to create apps to control home automation devices.
Nucleus RTOS is an embedded OS developed by Mentor Graphics. The company claims the software is currently running on more than 3 billion devices — which is an impressive install base. The OS has robust support for various embedded architectures and is popular in industry verticals such as automotive, healthcare, utilities, industrial, and consumer electronics.
Green Hills Integrity
Yet another longstanding commercial RTOS solution is Green Hills’ Integrity. It fiercely competes in the aerospace/defense, automotive, industrial, and medical verticals. The company is also continuing to be popular in the consumer-focused IoT market thanks to its long-standing popularity and reputation for performance, security, and reliability.
Unlike with PCs, tablets, and smartphones, there likely won’t be a short list of operating systems that dominate the entire IoT market. Instead, we’re going to have to deal with dozens of popular choices that have specific pros and cons. This list of eight operating systems shows the wide variety of choices and where they are likely to be used.
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Andrew has well over a decade of enterprise networking under his belt through his consulting practice, which specializes in enterprise network architectures and datacenter build-outs and prior experience at organizations such as State Farm Insurance, United Airlines and the … View Full Bio