Interview with Jay Michaelson of Wasabi Systems

The main commercial company behind NetBSD is Wasabi Systems. The company has contributed advances and big chunks of code to the open source project, while they do offer a boxed release of NetBSD. However, their main business for the company is the embedded market and NetBSD is marketed as an embedded OS. Today, we talk to the Vice President of Wasabi Systems, Jay Michaelson.1. NetBSD is the OS of choice at Wasabi Systems. How is the embedded version of NetBSD stacks up in performance when compared to VXWorks, Embedded Linux, QNX, WindowsCE and others?

Jay Michaelson: Wasabi Certified NetBSD is far more adaptable, powerful, and affordable than VxWorks. It is easy to port to new hardware, has a much more powerful networking stack (we know of VxWorks users who have ripped out their TCP stack and plugged in NetBSD’s.), and is free from Wind
River’s cumbersome fees. Moreover, with Wasabi certification and testing, Wasabi NetBSD is guaranteed just like other commercial operating systems.

Regarding Linux, the two main differentiators are portability and licensing. NetBSD, due to its modular portability layer, can be ported much faster than Linux; three weeks compared with three months in some cases. In addition, NetBSD is free of the GPL, which scares many
companies because it requires that all changes to the kernel be made open source. With NetBSD, there are no such requirements.

WinCE offers good application support, but the footprint is large and the reliability not up to par. QNX is a good OS but has lacked the penetration and support to really make a mark. OEMs want operating systems that their engineers can use, and providing a POSIX API and
Unix environment make that possible.

2. NetBSD is a full blown Unix. Does it actually scale down as well as it scales up? What are the minimum specs that NetBSD can run and operate on?

Jay Michaelson: We can get a usable kernel in under 1 Meg. As is well known, NetBSD can run on just about anything — there are still some consultants making a living off of VAX support. We’ve yet to see a commercial application where NetBSD has not been able to scale down adequately.

3. Up to now, where are your partners/clients are mostly lean to: Keeping their version of NetBSD closed or opening their modified sources? How do you see the embedded market/community reacting on open source?

Jay Michaelson: Customers have varied. One recent deal required that the code be kept secret for six months and then released — this is, in a way, the best of both worlds, because it will eventually be supported by the open source community, but in the meantime the customer gets the competitive advantage. Other customers want immediate release; they want to be integrated into the NetBSD source tree right away. And still others commit the basic port but keep some of the bells and whistles private. Wasabi itself has created suites of products and add-ons to NetBSD that are our intellectual property, and which we license to customers.

I think there is real, and justified, concern about the GPL. We’re now
past the initial phase, when FUD from various sources confused the
issue. People now understand that you’re not risking your company security by running Linux on your servers. But at the same time, most of our customers are quite aware that the GPL requires hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of IP to be shared, and they don’t like it. It’s a real concern in embedded.

4. What is your opinion on embedded Linux? Can it become as popular and successful as it is today in server space?

Jay Michaelson: The license gets in the way. You’re not changing the kernel in the server space, and Linux runs well, and of course it is widely supported. So the GPL is not an issue. In embedded, the GPL is always an issue. There are so many uncertainties, and such high costs, that the GPL really has hamstrung Linux’s advance in embedded. Add to that the portability gap between Linux on the one hand and NetBSD on the other. If you can get Unix functionality in three weeks instead of three months, which OS would you choose?

5. A year ago, we read that Wasabi Systems were going to bring a “desktop NetBSD“. The news were reported by a number of news agencies. Now, I can’t hear anything about this project except a simple CD release of NetBSD 1.6. Is the project canceled? Changed? Misundertood? If yes, why?

Jay Michaelson: I’m not sure where that news was reported. Our focus has been on embedded since we were founded in May, 2000. We support desktop users and the\ NetBSD Project by release engineering and creating CD-ROM distributions. But it has never been a focus for Wasabi.

I would point out that since Mac OS-X is basically Darwin BSD, BSD in general is already a leading desktop operating system…

6. What if your clients would like to use Java as their language of choice on top of NetBSD? Do you offer Java on top of your NetBSD-based solution?

Jay Michaelson: Stay tuned.

7. What new CPUs are you working on adding NetBSD support?

Jay Michaelson: We’re going to be announcing an important new port later this quarter, so I can’t tell you about that yet. As you know, we work very closely with our partners at Intel, AMD, MIPS, and others to support their next-generation hardware, and we are going to continue to do that. We also ported NetBSD to the Xilinx Virtex-II Pro, and the SuperH SH-5 last fall. With our increasing focus on storage networking devices, I think you’ll see a growing emphasis on the hardware architectures of interest to that market.


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