Which Embedded Linux Distro is Right for Me?

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  • DevynCJohnson
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    • @devyncjohnson

    Linux has a variety of uses and many distros. Linux is popular in embedded systems. Obviously, some people may want to know which is the best embedded Linux distro for their needs.

    Embedded systems are devices that serve a specific purpose (unlike a PC computer). Embedded operating systems have few resources and are often put on a ROM chip rather than a hard-drive. Examples of embedded systems include portable media players, printers, DVD players, MRI machines, Gumstix motherboard (http://www.gumstix.com/), etc.

    Mobile Linux Distros

    Android (https://www.android.com/) is a commonly used embedded Linux distro for tablets and phones. Android has also been used in cars (Android Auto), digital watches (Android Wear), and televisions/entertainment-systems (Android TV). Android supports both 32-bit and 64-bit forms of the ARM, x86, and MIPS platforms. Android contains both open-source and proprietary components. Android is used in many devices as an embedded OS including Barnes & Noble's Nook and the Ouya gaming console (http://www.ouya.tv/).

    For admins that are interested in Android, but dislike the closed-source components may find Replicant (http://replicant.us/) or CyanogenMod (http://cyanogenmod.org/) to be excellent alternatives. Replicant focuses on security while CyanogenMod introduces new features.

    Firefox OS (http://mozilla.org/firefox/os) is an alternative to Android. Firefox OS also works as an embedded system for mobile phones and tablets. This system supports x86 and ARM processors. Firefox OS apps can be written in HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript.

    Ubuntu Touch is a Ubuntu-based embedded operating system that is also for phones and tablets. This OS is perfect for users who prefer 100% open-source and need a mobile system that is Debian-like. Ubuntu Touch supports ARM and x86 processors. This system uses dpkg and Click as the package managers. Ubuntu Touch is still being developed.

    Other embedded systems for tablets and smartphones include Jolla's Sailfish OS (https://sailfishos.org/), Tizen (https://www.tizen.org/), WebOS (https://www.openwebosproject.org/), and Mer (http://merproject.org/).

    iPodLinux (http://sourceforge.net/projects/ipodlinux/) is a Linux distro designed for the Apple iPod. iPodLinux supports FAT32, ext2, HFS+, and other filesystems. This embedded OS can run games and emulators such as Doom II, iNES, iMAME, Bluecube (Tetris clone), and more.

    General Embedded Distros

    OpenWrt (https://openwrt.org/) is an embedded Linux system designed for network devices. This distro uses BusyBox, uClibc, the Ash shell, and the opkg package management system. A large variety of architectures are supported. OpenWrt uses a command-line interface or a web-based interface (such as LuCl or Gargoyle).

    Moblilinux (http://www.mobilinux.com/) is designed for embedded systems that need to save/conserve battery power (such as smartphones). This OS only supports the ARM processor.

    KaeliOS (http://www.kaeilos.com/) is a widely used embedded Linux distro that is used in medical devices, industrial robotics, aerospace and defense devices, and more. KaeliOS is part of the Yocto Project (http://www.yoctoproject.org/) which is a project dedicated to creating embedded Linux systems. This OS supports many platforms and may use a command-line interface or a GUI interface (such as GPE).

    Aboriginal Linux (http://landley.net/aboriginal/) is a very simple distro that contains the essential components to run an embedded Linux distro. This Linux distro can be used to satisfy many needs or be the base of a custom-made embedded distro. The GNURoot Android app (by Corbin Champion) allows users to run Aboriginal Linux (among other Linux distros) on their non-rooted Android system (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=champion.gnuroot.aboriginal && https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=champion.gnuroot). Aboriginal Linux uses Busybox and Toybox. The root filesystem is on initmpfs (a virtual filesystem that is similar to tmpfs or ramfs).

    GeeXboX (http://www.geexbox.org/) is an embedded Linux system dedicated to multimedia usage. The system supports ARM, x86, and PowerPC. The operating system includes many video and audio codecs. GeeXboX uses the opkg package manager. GeeXboX supports HD videos, HDMI ports, CRT output, and Nvidia GPUs.

    Further Reading

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