ALT Software is a company well-known in the embedded market, offering several solutions via firmware, device driver and system level programming . Desktop users used ALT’s graphics drivers (2D and OpenGL) on BeOS back when ALT was working with Be. Today we feature an interview with Dan Joncas of ALT regarding the company’s current projects.1. Tell us a bit about your business and your current products.
Dan Joncas: ALT Software offers professional application and system level software development services to organizations across a broad range of sectors. ALT Software provides real-time, embedded, and safety critical OpenGL drivers and solutions. Our strengths are in hardware-related software engineering with expertise in embedded systems, video processing, audio, networking, mobile and wireless technologies.
ALT’s hardware accelerated embedded OpenGL product is a very small memory footprint utilized in near real time and ruggedized devices that require extremely stable, secure and high performing subsystems. The embedded solution provides a platform to enable hardware accelerated 3D/2D graphics.
2. Do you support QNX for your OpenGL offerings? Do you contract with MontaVista?
Dan Joncas: QNX and MontaVista are two operating systems that we support on customer request and our professional services group has provided software solutions based on both QNX and MontaVista Linux. Our embedded OpenGL products support number of major RTOSs, including Integrity, VxWorks, CsLeos, LynxOS, etc.
3. Does the widespread usage of DirectX ever put a block to your OpenGL business with partners? How do you see the future of OpenGL?
Dan Joncas: DirectX is specific to the Windows operating systems and we typically find that our target customers are not deploying Windows operating systems. Although our OpenGL solution does support various Windows platforms, our target customers prefer to utilize safety critical environments and this is not a market that Microsoft has targeted. The need for hardware accelerated graphics coupled with safety critical and embedded display systems allows for OpenGL to continue being an integral part of these niche markets.
4. What kind of embedded hardware products need OpenGL (examples) and how is your company delivering this promise to your partners?
Dan Joncas: ALT’s embedded graphics products allows defense/aerospace, medical, industrial, gaming, industrial control and commercial manufacturers to build hardware accelerated 3D/2D graphic display systems for their respective embedded subsystems. ALT’s embedded OpenGL has been deployed in a number of avionic cockpit display systems, including F-18 fighter jets and Longbow helicopters. Other current projects include DO-178B safety-critical software for commercial aircraft cockpit displays.
Because 3D graphic ASICs now deliver 3D performance with lower power consumption requirements, ALT can now enable full 3D acceleration in medical imaging devices, industrial control systems, and automotive dash boards. ALT is also researching PCI Express on the PowerPC CPU platform to deliver this new technology to our customers.
ALT’s customer base is constantly growing. One of our objectives is to source and support graphic technology by providing a product suite for a full range of devices including very low power small memory devices such as cell phones and PDAs, industrial systems using medium performance 2D/3D graphics, and the high-performance ruggedized vehicle display systems found in Aircraft and mobile simulators.
ALT has spent many years architecting and optimizing our software and repeatedly driving our product through rigorous QA standards to meet the needs of our customers. Our embedded OpenGL driver has been successfully tested through many customers’ applications and hardware configurations.
5. Do you see PDAs and mobile phones having 3D acceleration any time soon? Is ALTSoftware wants to be in this business category?
Dan Joncas: Yes, there are new chips are on the market today that already support hardware accelerated 3D on PDAs and mobile phones. ATI’s IMAGEON 2300 is an example of a graphics ASIC that supports hardware 3D acceleration for handheld devices. It certainly makes gaming on mobile platforms more attractive. This is another market where ALT’s embedded OpenGL has been gaining momentum. ALT has been working closely with a number of PDA / cell phone companies that are considering taking advantage of these 3D graphics chips. These prospective customers like the idea of a utilizing ALT’s OpenGL product because of its small footprint and high performance.
6. Depending on the project, there are many embedded CPUs and hardware that simply have pretty bad compiler support. How do you go around this problem when developing your drivers and solutions?
Dan Joncas: In a number of projects we develop our own cross-compilers as necessary. For instance, we have done lots of development based on the GCC compiler. We also try to keep our drivers as close to ANSI C standard as possible, although in some cases being ANSI C compliant may not really help; many cross-compilers just don’t conform to any standard and are just hacked together to “make it work.” ALT has a lot of experience working with embedded platform toolsets where we create our own standard and non standard libraries as required to overcome these limitations. ALT has a lot of experience developing a variety of different embedded drivers on many platforms – we have tackled and overcome many of the common pitfalls.
7. Back in the day you used to write drivers for the BeOS. Do you still welcome contracting jobs to write 3D/2D drivers for consumer operating systems?
Dan Joncas: As part of our professional services group we continue to develop custom 3D/2D drivers for consumer operating systems. We have extended our professional services group to include video, networking, and audio software development and hardware engineering services. Examples of previous projects: Solaris, AIX, Linux and Windows PCI-X crypto-accelerated device drivers, 4-port video hardware design and prototyping, WHQL certified drivers for digital video recorders, narrowband wireless networking drivers and firmware, keyboard drivers for the Palm PDAs, low level software solutions to enable new HDTV chips, WinCE board support packages for the first PDA for the blind and of course many different display drivers based on a wide variety of different hardware and software configurations.
8. I know that your DX-2-GL driver wrapper is open source, but do you have other bits and pieces developed over the years that you could open source? What is the company’s stance regarding Free/OSS software in general?
Dan Joncas: We have written a number of Linux drivers and other open source software specifically for customers that have released it into the open source community. Also, a number of ALT’s developers continue to contribute to various open source groups, including KDE, KGDB, Gentoo, etc.