The widespread implementation of small computing devices inside the realm of the Internet of Things (IoT) makes it a perfect seeding, breeding and weeding ground for Linux with its heritage in hobbyist development.

Heart of the matter

Linux-driven open source and commercial single board computers and modules sit “at the heart of” the IoT phenomenon. This is the suggestion tabled by Eric Brown writing on Hackerboards this month as he explores the usage of Linux in IoT environments.

These machines are usually found in the form of gateways or hubs that aggregate sensor data from typically wirelessly enabled, sensor-equipped endpoints says Brown.

“Sometimes these endpoints run Linux as well, but these are more often simpler, lower-power MCU-driven devices such as Arduino-based devices. Linux and Windows run the show in the newly IoT-savvy cloud platforms that are emerging to monitor systems and analyze data fed from the gateways in so-called fog ecosystems,” he explains.

Embedded Linux

Indeed, Linux has long been aligning the embedded Linux community towards implementations of the open source codebase that can be productively brought to bear in small-scale devices.

The embedded Linux community is a complex and diverse universe with sub-communities devoting their working project time to aspects of functionality that go way beyond user interfaces and device networking.

Entire sub-cultures exist inside the embedded Linux world devoted to data scheduling, filesystems, log files and time stamp technology… and so on.

Smart device, dumb device

The future for embedded Linux in the IoT is open to debate. Linux creator Linus Torvalds argues that with all the dumb or stupid (i.e. not smart) devices in the IoT, Linux has a key role to play in inter-machine networking and intercommunication at the central level.

“You also need smart devices. The stupid devices talk different standards. Maybe you won’t see Linux on the leaf nodes, but you’ll see Linux in the hubs,” said Torvalds.

Technologies to consider here include RIoT a free and open source operating system developed by a grassroots community gathering companies, academia and hobbyists, distributed all around the world.

Software developers can work with RIoT’s issue tracker technology to inform the community about bugs and enhancement requests. They can also subscribe to the notifications mailing list to get informed about new issues, comments and pull requests. This type of collaboration and community-based information sharing is fundamentally important and will help decide which embedded software IoT projects win or fail.

Forking hell

Not everyone is a fan of embedded Linux given the open source operating system’s inherent ability to be ‘forked’ and re-channeled by the community itself.

Forking must (if it is to be productive) always equal growth, additional functionality and wider connectivity under a wider umbrella of security compliance also… and this, sometimes, is a big ask.

Linux loves the IoT for sure, but Linux in the IoT has some challenges ahead.


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I am a technology journalist with over two decades of press experience. Primarily I work as a news analysis writer dedicated to a software application development ‘beat’; but, in a fluid media world, I am also an analyst, technology evangelist and content consultant. As the previously narrow discipline of programming now extends across a wider transept of the enterprise IT landscape, my own editorial purview has also broadened. I have spent much of the last ten years also focusing on open source, data analytics and intelligence, cloud computing, mobile devices and data management. I have an extensive background in communications starting in print media, newspapers and also television. If anything, this gives me enough man-hours of cynical world-weary experience to separate the spin from the substance, even when the products are shiny and new.