Nine years of embedded Linux

Nine years ago I bought Sharp Zaurus SL-5500 as my first Linux PDA. And due to this I am where I am.

I could say that it started two years earlier when I saw PalmOS devices at local geek meetings. But it took me over year before Palm m105… Then was Sony Clie SJ30 — gorgeous device. High resolution, memory card, 16bit colour. Too bad that applications did not make use of it.

So I went for Linux. There were two options: Zaurus or iPaq. Went for former one as it had keyboard. It was good choice.

Quickly started development of packages and joined OpenEmbedded team. Then became one of OpenZaurus developers. After year or something took over release maintenance and released few last versions. 3.5.4(.1) were the best tested releases of OZ ever — I had over hundred testers for each RC image and they provided installation reports, bug reports and fixes. And it had unified installer for whole range of devices (took me several months to get it polished and few guys added own tweaks). When Ångström distribution started I was the one who officially ended OpenZaurus development.

And all that was in free time. But in mean time I created my consulting company. CELF was my first customer ;)

One nice evening I got question on irc and due to that I left dark side of IT and went from PHP programming to embedded Linux full-time. OpenedHand had interesting projects and clients with many devices. Imagine operating system + kernel + Python + GStreamer in 16 megabytes of flash… And I managed to get it done. While working for them I used proper developer boards (not only customer devices) and there were funny moments…

When we worked with ST Microelectronics on NDK-15 (later replaced by NHK-15 from ST Ericsson) I had to merge two kernel trees from two separate teams. Took me 2 days of mangling 20-30MB diffs but got it done. There are people at ST-E which reminded me this during one of Linaro Connects ;D

Also on GUADEC 2007 when we presented new interface for Openmoko phones NDK-15 had to wait for me as no one at stand was able to get it running (U-Boot config needed changes).

But then Intel acquired OpenedHand… The craziest trip of my life was return from London to my parents place. For three months I even had @linux.intel.com email but never used it due to problems with Intel corporate network and Linux (do not ask).

Next was Bug Labs and their BUG device. I cleaned their Poky trees, migrated to latest version and later to use OpenEmbedded directly. Less challenges but I also had few other customers at that time to keep me busy. Some of them were OH customers before and went to me for help.

Time passed, 2010 came. One day Canonical made another attempt to seduce me and this time I decided that it looks like good opportunity so I accepted. Sent BUG 2.0 prototype back to NYC and few weeks later I made crazy train trip to small nowhere near Brussels to meet my new coworkers from NewCore. 1-2 weeks later we got our current name: Linaro.

Total change… From embedded devices to ‘Yes, it is ARM. So what?’ kind as we support(ed) devices powerful enough to run normal desktop software. Many changes for me — from OpenEmbedded where you can (cross) build everything in few hours to Ubuntu packaging where sending package for inclusion into archive meant few hours of buildd queue and then few of build. But I learnt a lot here and met another set of hackers including grey beards ones ;)

And all that because I bought Sharp Zaurus SL-5500 nine years ago…

2 thoughts on “Nine years of embedded Linux

  1. rrnwexec

    Marcin, what a cool story! I’m one of the many people who benefited from all your hard work on the Zaurus. The 5500, 5600, and even the 6000. They were all beautiful.

    Thank you!

    Cheers, Randall.

  2. Filip Kłębczyk

    Really nice and interesting story! Usually actions that seemed insignificant (when they have been taken) lead us to completely new world of possibilities, challenges and fun. Sometimes they can impact a whole life.

    By the way I still remember that on one of Pingwinaria’s you’ve made a talk about OpenEmbedded and Angstrom. I was quite inspired by it and used some of the knowledge I’ve gained on Mobile Devices Programming (Programowanie Urządzeń Mobilnych) lectures I’ve (co-)led at that time on university. Good, old times :-)

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