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BlackBerry Maker To Buy QNX For RTOS & Dev. Suite 51

Posted by Soulskill
from the expanding-the-portfolio dept.
Freshly Exhumed writes "Research In Motion, maker of BlackBerry smartphones, said on Friday it will buy QNX Software Systems, makers of Real-Time Operating Systems, for an undisclosed amount as it moves to boost integration of its devices with in-vehicle audio systems. QNX Neutrino is a Unix-like RTOS, and their Momentics development suite is for embedded applications for a wide variety of industries. While RIM has offered somewhat limited support of open source projects on its BlackBerry platform, the future of QNX's Foundry27 development project, which uses the Apache 2.0 license, has not yet been mentioned."
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BlackBerry Maker To Buy QNX For RTOS & Dev. Suite

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  • by the linux geek (799780) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:06PM (#31794082)
    QNX is quite possibly the best operating system available. The tools are great, and the OS itself can do some pretty ridiculous things. To start with, it's extremely fast - even with the Photon GUI (another great feature) loaded, it only consumes something like 25MB of RAM on x86, and slightly less on ARM. That's impressive. Then let's go into the clustering features - if they're turned on, then processes are automatically and transparently distributed among any QNX machines on the local network.

    On the other hand, I haven't been that impressed with the way QNX Systems has been handling the platform lately. Momentics can't even self-host anymore, and the UI has gotten a lot worse in my opinion. That being said, I hope RIM doesn't do an IBM-style acquisition where they just take the bits of the victim company that they like and kill everything else.
    • by Bearhouse (1034238) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:15PM (#31794178)

      Mod up.
      Both BB and QNS have excelled in rock-solid enterprise support, not shiny consumer-pleasing stuff, like Apple.
      Exhibit 1. Blackberry maps vs. Google maps on BB. No contest.
      So do I think that BB will leverage this to create & 'compelling in-car experience'? Nope.

    • by Tapewolf (1639955) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:23PM (#31794288)
      Absolutely. AFAIK this thing is so rock-solid that it's used for safety-critical things like medical equipment and aerospace stuff. I absolutely do not want to see it go down the pan, even though I don't use it myself.
    • by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:32PM (#31794430) Homepage Journal

      I second the sentiment that QNX is a great operating system. My first contact with it was through the incredible 1.44 MB QNX Demo Disk, which was a bootable 1.44 MB diskette image containing QNX (4.something, I think), with GUI and graphical web browser. Did I mention that the OS was POSIX-compliant and real-time? At the time, Linux and XFree86 absolutely paled in comparison.

      While on the topic, I would like to say that I would like to have a desktop OS that provided real-time guarantees (or at least "most of the time"). On my shiny multi-GHz, multi-core, multi-GB-of-RAM machine, Firefox still manages to hang the user interface for multiple seconds when it first starts up and I type something it the Awesome bar. I'd like to at least be able to switch windows and start sending input to another application in = 0.1 seconds! If we could extend the real-time guarantees to a GUI library so that we could have, say, button click animations and other "I got your message and I'm working on it" feedback to respond within certain time frames, that would be great.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:57PM (#31794862)

      I agree that QNX is great. Really really great. It's POSIX compliance is awesome and technically it has some really cool features I've not seen in other commercial embedded RTOSes of this grade. For example, it's a micro-kernel architecture allows device drivers to be written in a re-startable way so they can be replaced/crashed/restarted without apps knowing what happened. There's also some great resource partitioning schemes where processes can be grouped and given hard limits on CPU cycles and memory - while still performing as an RTOS.

      One criticism is that QNX tends to have a bit more overhead than some leaner less featured RTOSes like Kadak AMX although I'm not sure they really compete in anycase.

      The major problem I found was that it's quite expensive and came with a hefty royalty which knocks it out of the high volume low cost consumer space.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 09, 2010 @05:01PM (#31794926)

      Yeah really. I worked at a large Semi manufacturer for a while as a sr software engineer. I wrote the software to run our machines under QNX. It is a nice, fast OS. It's been years since I used it so I don't know what it's current state is.

    • Dont follow Palm (Score:4, Insightful)

      by CdBee (742846) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:13PM (#31795810)
      QNX Neutrino I remember as a very promising OS, released for x86 desktop-class computers as a distribution that fitted a web browser, ppp, windowing environment and enough drivers to work as a prototype 'live distro' [projektas.lt], booting from A SINGLE 1.44MB FLOPPY DISK

      I spent many hours playing with it on a Dell pentium 133/32mb laptop. when Palm bought BeOS for its software assets hardly any were ever used. I hope RIM does better. they could make excellent products with an OS that light but powerful.
      • by Fallingcow (213461) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @06:34AM (#31798892) Homepage

        QNX and BeOS were my choices when I wanted a low-end machine to play MP3s without skipping, back when processing power was low enough that both Windows and Linux couldn't be relied upon to do so even when that's all they were doing.

        BeOS had a lot of other useful desktop apps, too. QNX had some, but not as many. Either would remain responsive while multi-tasking and still keep the audio playing back smoothly in the background (sounds dumb now, but that was pretty cool on an early Pentium or 486DX with 32 to 64 MB RAM)

        I wish they'd build more operating systems like those. Hell, even modern advanced features wouldn't seem out of place in BeOS and I can easily imagine some modern version of it taking up 1/10th the disk space and resources of (say) Windows 7 while offering the same or better features; that's essentially what it did back then when compared with Win98, after all.

        QNX could do some crazy shit on machines weaker than my cell phone. It'd be awesome to see it adapted for modern low power consumer devices.

        • by egork (449605) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @01:19PM (#31800328) Homepage Journal

          I had once to ask a question on the Handbrake irc channel. I was impressed by the intolerance of the developers to somebody asking an honest question. Handbrake counts its origin from BeOS, which I did not know at the time. http://www.bebits.com/app/3478 [bebits.com] If this is the culture they had in BeOS developer community, no wonder Palm could not integrate them. Probably nobody could.

          Handbrake has attracted my attention by being a complete tool from a user perspective. However I have ended up using the old good mencoder for my tasks. It does not crash, there are tons of documentation and howtos and it is much faster. My guess is that mencoder developers just listened to their end-users better.

    • by Animats (122034) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @01:31AM (#31798132) Homepage

      Harmon already did. QNX used to run well on most desktop machines and some laptops, so you could self-host and develop for QNX on QNX. That's gradually been broken over the last few years. Harmon is an audio electronics company. Owning an OS company was out of their league. At least RIM is in the right industry.

      I used QNX extensively from 2002-2005, and my desktop machine, plus all the machines in a robot vehicle, ran QNX. QNX runs many of the high-end robots; BigDog, for example, uses QNX. Several DARPA Grand Challenge vehicles ran QNX. When timing really matters, and the problem is far too complex for PLCs and low-end microcontrollers, you need something like QNX.

      It's really sad. QNX as an OS was very good. QNX as a company, especially their marketing operation, managed to anger developers, customers, and employees, resulting in a major brain drain out of the QNX community.

      Despite Torvalds, mainstream computing is moving to message passing between separate processes. Gnome, Chrome, MacOS, and WebKit are all multi-process message passing systems. QNX does message passing far better than UNIX or Linux does. Message passing in QNX works like a subroutine call. Under UNIX and Linux, a message pass involves the excess baggage of turning a subroutine call into a write to a socket, with marshaling for the conversion from message to stream, and with several unnecessary trips through the scheduler.

      There used to be much concern about copying overhead in microkernels, but that's less of an issue in modern CPUs. If you're copying material that was just created, as with most message passing, it will be in the cache, and copying will be fast. "Zero copy" systems that play games with the MMU are generally a lose today, because CPU and cache flushing is required to bring main memory into sync before the MMU setup is changed. Unless you're copying gigabytes, that costs more than the data copy.

      • by flyingrobots (704155) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @02:41PM (#31800772)
        I disagree...working with QNX and paying customers has been nice. Their applications engineers are very helpful and will go the extra mile to get developers what they need. We've had great experiences with them.
      • by Pseudonym (62607) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @11:02PM (#31804438)

        There used to be much concern about copying overhead in microkernels, but that's less of an issue in modern CPUs.

        That copying is still present in monolithic kernels, it's just from user space to kernel space instead of user space to user space. The difference is that microkernels such as Neutrino are highly optimised to make that message passing fast, whereas Linux tries to optimise all things for all people. Well, everything except Flash video.

    • by nurb432 (527695) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @11:06AM (#31799796) Homepage Journal

      That being said, I hope RIM doesn't do an IBM-style acquisition where they just take the bits of the victim company that they like and kill everything else.

      Why wouldn't they ? They are a business and want to make $, dealing with the bits they don't need just costs them. I would also see it moving to all in house instead of a standalone commercial product, and the only BSPs will be for RIM devices. ( i hope i'm wrong, but what motivation is there not to do that? )

      But i agree, QNX is/was great, not sure about it being the "best", but it is great.

  • UNIX-like? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:07PM (#31794096) Journal

    If by UNIX-like, you mean a microkernel OS designed for scalability using message passing at a low level and delivering realtime performance and strong isolation of kernel components, then, yes, it's UNIX-like. If that's how you define UNIX-like, then you're probably someone who has never used UNIX.

    QNX has a POSIX compatibility layer, but so do Symbian, OpenVMS, and Windows NT and I wouldn't describe any of them as UNIX-like.

    • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:15PM (#31794182) Journal

      So far as I know, QNX POSIX layer is sufficiently advanced that a large number of applications can (and are) be readily ported from Unix. In my book, that counts as "Unix-like".

      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:20PM (#31794256) Journal
        So are the OpenVMS, Windows, and Symbian POSIX layers. Are these operating systems also UNIX-like n your book?
        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:37PM (#31794506)
          The Windows POSIX layer is not sufficiently advanced that a large number of applications can (and are) be readily ported from Unix. I can't speak for the others, but I've directly worked with the one from Windows NT and it really needs a lot of help to be UNIX-like, see mingw.
        • Re:UNIX-like? (Score:3, Informative)

          by MobyTurbo (537363) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:47PM (#31794686) Homepage

          So are the OpenVMS, Windows, and Symbian POSIX layers. Are these operating systems also UNIX-like n your book?

          I've never seen anyone use a BASH shell on OpenVMS, fork() on Windows, or anything Unixy other than Qt on Symbian. QNX, on the other hand, is regularly programmed with the Unix API and has a Unix userland as its primary command line interface.

          • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:39PM (#31796012) Journal

            I've never seen anyone use a BASH shell on OpenVMS

            I've not seen anyone use it on QNX either, but it works on both.

            fork() on Windows

            Worked fine for me under the POSIX layer I was using (cygwin) when I last had a Windows machine (around 2003, running Win2K).

            or anything Unixy other than Qt on Symbian.

            Maybe you should look harder [wikipedia.org].

            QNX, on the other hand, is regularly programmed with the Unix API and has a Unix userland as its primary command line interface

            If you use the POSIX subsystem, yes. Alternatively, it can be programmed with the native asynchronous API, which is much nicer if you want scalable or realtime code. You can live entirely in the POSIX subsystem on OpenVMS too and pretend it's a UNIX machine, but that doesn't make OpenVMS an UNIX-like system.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 09, 2010 @10:13PM (#31797424)

            I've never seen anyone use a BASH shell on OpenVMS


            CHIMPY$ bash
            bash$ uname -a
            OpenVMS CHIMPY 0 V8.3 AlphaServer_800_5/333 Alpha
            bash$

            You have now :)

    • Re:UNIX-like? (Score:4, Informative)

      by MobyTurbo (537363) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:45PM (#31794656) Homepage
      QNX is a bit more Unix-like than Symbian or OpenVMS or WinNT. It's userland is Unix, with a bash shell, GNU utilities, and so on. So from both an API level, and a user interface level, it's Unix-like.

      Now, if you define Unix as "has X11 as its main GUI", you'd have to define such Unixes as early SunOS (using NeWS) as non-Unix, and define OS X as non-Unix when it is Unix(r) certified, while such clones as Linux get called Unix...

      You are right of course that a real time Microkernel is not the typical kernel on a Unix operating system, but then again, several Unixes were made with microkernels, especially the CMU Mach variety which powered the Unix known as OSF/1, which had a Unix vendor of none other than Digital Equipment (eventually it got named to Tru64, and is still in production by HP after the Compaq merger). Real time variations on Unix have a long history, AT&T even made one. Maybe your definition of the Unix kernel is "something that resembles the 4BSD kernel", mostly because that's what Linux resembles best, but it would be in variance with the certification authorities' definition, which is API, or the common user's definition, which would be what the userland resembles.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 09, 2010 @05:39PM (#31795494)

        QNX is a bit more Unix-like than Symbian or OpenVMS or WinNT. It's userland is Unix, with a bash shell, GNU utilities, and so on. So from both an API level, and a user interface level, it's Unix-like.

        I don't think it's fair to call something Unix-like just because it has a POSIX-like API or userland available. You'll have to go very far to find an OS that doesn't fit that, even Windows with Microsoft's SFU or cygwin meet those criteria. If an OS has a majority POSIXiness, then sure. Maybe QNX does, but I'm under the impression from the other readers that that's not necessarily true.

    • by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:50PM (#31794730) Homepage Journal

      ``If by UNIX-like, you mean a microkernel OS designed for scalability using message passing at a low level and delivering realtime performance and strong isolation of kernel components, then, yes, it's UNIX-like.''

      Correct, QNX is much more impressive than "UNIX-like" gives it credit for.

      ``QNX has a POSIX compatibility layer, but so do Symbian, OpenVMS, and Windows NT and I wouldn't describe any of them as UNIX-like.''

      Agreed, too.

      On the other hand, QNX's POSIX compatibility layer goes very far. Years ago, I used it to experiment with some POSIX features that, at the time, none of the Free *nixen supported, yet. If your software is written to work on POSIX systems, I'd wager the chances of it running on QNX are at least as high as the chances of it running on a real UNIX system or derivate (e.g. Solaris).

      By contrast, Symbian's and NT's POSIX compatibility layers provide subsets of POSIX with some features people expect from POSIX systems missing or emulated. For example, Symbian's P.I.P.S. does not provide fork and exec. The chances of software written for POSIX systems working on Symbian or NT out of the box are not nearly as good as for QNX.

      As for OpenVMS, I know very little about its POSIX compliance. I do know it runs vi and sh and a couple of C programs that I wrote for it. I also know that the POSIX API doesn't give access to all the system's features - in particular, the different kinds of file supported by VMS don't always work nicely with POSIX programs. As far as I can tell from my limited experience, a POSIX program feels much more at home on QNX than it does on OpenVMS.

      • by Rysc (136391) * <sorpigal@gmail.com> on Friday April 09, 2010 @07:57PM (#31796652) Homepage Journal

        QNX is much more impressive than "UNIX-like" gives it credit for.

        When people say "UNIX-like" they usually don't mean to imply a limited set of POSIX features. What they normally mean to imply is "Not an incompatible piece of junk." If I hear an OS is UNIX-like I think that it will be familiar, comfortable, compatible and acceptable. Every UNIX and UNIX-like OS has some features--sometimes fantastic features--that set it apart. QNX certainly has those. To clarify that it is UNIX-like is only a compliment,

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 09, 2010 @05:10PM (#31795062)

      Agree.

      As I understand things, what eventually became QNX was actually the result of a class project for the "realtime" course at the university of Waterloo. One of the assignments is to write a realtime OS based on a simple message passing OS spec (http://www.student.cs.uwaterloo.ca/~cs452/assignments/kernel.ps). The course seems to have not changed significantly over the years with most recent class info here: http://www.student.cs.uwaterloo.ca/~cs452/

    • by ClosedSource (238333) on Friday April 09, 2010 @05:53PM (#31795634)

      If by UNIX-like, you mean not suitable for hard real-time software, then no, it isn't UNIX-like.

  • by qoncept (599709) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:08PM (#31794106) Homepage
    Integrating internet and phone in to a place it has no business, by a company who can't do anything people actually like. Sounds like a typical Rim job.
  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:09PM (#31794120) Journal

    Last time I played with QNX, I was impressed with how light-weight it is. I understand that it's an embedded OS, but nonetheless you can run it on the desktop [wikimedia.org], and the UI is extremely fast. I wonder why it isn't used in the same role as those lightweight Linux distros, as a desktop for older systems.

    It also has some rather neat APIs of its own, especially those responsible for UI ("Photon").

    By the way, if you ever wanted to play with it, it is freely downloadable [qnx.com] (yes, that is the x86 version, so it'll run on your desktop).

  • by itsybitsy (149808) * on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:25PM (#31794330)

    RIM has finally stepped up to the plate to FIGHT the GOOD against APPLE! YES!

    Although I hate to see QNX be owned by RIM, the people who brought us Blackberry (recently completed a blackberry app - icky sticky java with types getting stuck all over the place for no good reason), this is a major massive move by RIM that sets them on the board to fight Apple. Before now it was not even a fair match. Now at least RIM has a chance again.

  • by MonsterTrimble (1205334) <monstertrimble@@@hotmail...com> on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:38PM (#31794516)

    When I read this I remembered back to the last company I worked for. Their in-house MRP system ran on QNX circa 1993 (The MRP was changed over to Infor in 2008). It was very telling one day when one of the girls told me about the lead (read: only) MRP developer had told her. At a particular point in the MRP he said do NOT Hit Ctrl-S. She asked why. His response: it would erase the hard drive.

    Obviously, that's not the norm, but now I'll need a drink when I get home tonite.

  • QNX? Memories (Score:3, Interesting)

    by houghi (78078) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:39PM (#31794536)

    Internet on a floppy. Brought me a lot of fun. Boot the floppy, connect and surf away.

  • by the_doctor_23 (945852) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:52PM (#31794774)
    Looks like Foundry27 is being canned:

    Effective April 9th 2010, QNX Software Systems has updated its source code access policy. This FAQ has been prepared for customers, partners, and hobbyists and provides details on what has changed.
    Q. What has changed under the new source code policy?

    Under the new policy, QNX Software Systems will continue to make its proprietary OS and middleware source code available to qualified customers, partners, and educational institutions. However, some of this code will no longer be available to hobbyists or to the general public.

    The new policy classifies proprietary QNX source code as either Open (available to anyone under an open source license), Accessible (available to customers, partners, educational institutions, and hobbyists under a new click-through agreement), or Restricted (available to customers and partners with an approved QNX Restricted Content Application).

    For example, QNX Software Systems will:

    * continue to provide board support packages (BSPs) as open source
    * provide various libraries and utilities as Accessible source
    * provide source code for the QNX microkernel as Restricted source

    Does anyone have a torrent with the current source?

    • ``Does anyone have a torrent with the current source?''

      I would be surprised if there wasn't someone with a complete copy of the latest released source, but what would you do with it? As far as I know, only limited parts of the system are under actual open source licenses. For the rest, you may get the source, but it is essentially non-free. I very much doubt that you could build a working operating system that you would be allowed to modify and distribute from the sources provided by QNX Software Systems.

    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:45PM (#31796044) Journal

      Not a huge loss. It was always an attempt to do open source, without actually doing the open source bit. You could look at the source, but you couldn't distribute derived works or even use it for commercial purposes. It was even more restrictive than some of Microsoft's Shared Source stuff.

      A shame, because architecturally QNX has one of my favourite kernels. The Symbian kernel design is probably the nicest open source architecture currently, but it's hampered by an absolutely horrible userland. Hopefully PIPS will do something about that soon...

  • UW (Score:3, Informative)

    by jpmorgan (517966) on Friday April 09, 2010 @05:04PM (#31794986) Homepage

    Interestingly enough, QNX and RIM are both University of Waterloo semi-spinoffs.

  • by idiot900 (166952) * on Friday April 09, 2010 @05:25PM (#31795268)

    Does this mean there will be a new kernel for the phones, and a POSIX userland API exposed to developers? This announcement, combined with previous noises about Flash on BlackBerry, make me suspect so. RIM's JVM and apps are still cripplingly slow when compared to the pizzazz-filled user experience of the iPhone...

  • Let's just say I'm not extremely impressed with RIM or it's partners of choice.

    I'm sure all the end-users and central-config buffs out there LOVE the RIM platform and all.

    As someone who's had to SUPPORT one for some time now, I'm much LESS enamored of it.

    And I foresee the same exact thing happening to QNX over the next several years. Gradually dragged down by lousy support and indifferent-at-best developers.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 09, 2010 @09:02PM (#31797046)

    The QNX microkernel is also used by Cisco in the new CRS3's.
    It will be interesting to see what this acquisition will do for RIM.

  • by nurb432 (527695) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @11:02AM (#31799788) Homepage Journal

    A rather hard core competitive company will be in charge... Do you even have to ask?

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