Saturday, July 10, 2004

LINUX: Electronics design moves to Linux

NewsForge | Electronics design moves to Linux

Title Electronics design moves to Linux
Date 2004.07.09 12:00
Author StoneLion

Something odd started to happen a couple years ago at Advanced Wave Research, Inc., a developer of RF, microwave, and wireless electronics design software. From its founding in 1994, through the release of its first product in 1998, AWD had been a Microsoft shop, and all its products were Windows-only. But in the course of trying to grow, the company found potential customers asking, "What about Linux?"

"They were saying, 'Come back when you're on Linux and we'll talk,'" reports Dane Collins, executive vice president of AWR. "This was a gatekeeper issue. [Having a Linux version] doesn't get us in the door, but it can keep us out."

AWR has a strong Windows user base. Most of AWR's approximately 400 customers have Windows-based engineering processes from design to productions, but their customers on Unix won't go to a completely Windows workflow, citing security as their number one beef. Companies didn't want to do the design on Windows and then run the rest of the process on Unix. They wanted a single, or at least highly compatible, platform. Linux is close enough.

AWR contemplated a Linux port for a year. It researched different ways of getting it done, and came down to two possible choices. It could do a traditional port, or it could leverage open source code and maybe not have to port at all.

The first option would use MainSoft's MainWin: a plug-in for Visual Studio, with build libraries that compile the program to run with their Windows Runtime for Linux (how it works). There were problems with the strategy. AWR didn't feel that the port would be maintainable. Developers could port a specific version, but with a six-month lifecycle, they didn't feel that Linux development could be sustained. Plus, they would have to make significant changes to their applications to make them compile with the MainSoft libraries.

Their second option was to use open source technology to boost their Windows application onto Linux. "With WINE we could find out quickly if it was practical to use," Collins says. "We found CodeWeavers, and within two weeks we were able to get [our flagship application] up and wiggling." From there, AWR worked with CodeWeavers to handle the bigger issues. Within a couple months the company had 90% of the application running well. According to Collins, they've been working towards 100% functionality ever since.

"By doing it this way, the development practices are immune from the porting practices. It's transparent to the development staff," Collins explains. But has the Linux version required any changes in the Windows version? "Every once in a while, we've modified an algorithm to improve performance," Collins says, "but that improves performance on the Windows side, too. It's been very synergistic."

Of course, it wasn't all WINE and roses (you knew we couldn't resist). The fragmentation of the Linux world came as an unpleasant surprise to AWR. With Windows, you test on one version and it runs across the board. With Linux, there are different versions of different flavors. "The whole infrastructure -- different machines, multi-booting in different flavors of Linux," says Collins. "Testing was a nightmare."

The electronic design industry is, at present, having a spirited debate about which Linux to support. AWR's competitors are doing a traditional port of some ten million lines of code, mostly from Solaris. They're unsure of what flavor and version of Linux to support. Linux's short life-cycle, usually its strength, is considered a drawback.

Nevertheless, using WINE cut the length of AWR's porting project significantly, putting it months ahead of its competitors. AWR's Linux products went into beta in the end of March and, though they are ready to ship, will probably stay in beta until at least August. "We're in beta until a customer forces us out. You could consider it released because we're ready to deliver it, but there has not been a compelling event," Collins says, and at $30,000 to $80,000 per copy, it takes a compelling event.

"If a [potential customer] is using Unix and you're not on that platform, you can't get in the door," says Collins in summation. "There's a long way to go with these companies. But we've demonstrated the software and we can deliver. We still have a year of convincing to get them to believe [our software] will get their designs done quicker."


1. "Advanced Wave Research, Inc." - http://www.mwoffice.com/
2. "MainSoft's" - http://www.mainsoft.com/
3. "how it works" - http://www.mainsoft.com/products/mainwin_howitworks.html
4. "WINE" - http://www.winehq.org/
5. "CodeWeavers" - http://www.codeweavers.com/
6. "Solaris" - http://wwws.sun.com/software/solaris/index.html


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