The race to the IoT OS
The total scope and breadth of the IoT operating system universe is as deep and wide as our own galaxy the Milky Way, well... almost, maybe with just a little less chococlate flavor topping. Image Source:

The race to the IoT OS

Software firms large and small and frantically pumping, re-tuning and finessing their operating systems to embrace Internet of Things (IoT) centric deployments… but who will win? Clue: it doesn’t matter just yet because the IoT universe is as big as the Western Spiral Arm of the galaxy.

Okay so maybe the IoT universe doesn’t quite rival the breadth of our own Milky Way, but at the moment, as of 2016, the industry will naturally now produce a plethora of operating system (OS) variants all designed to handle the task of IoT application and data management and processing in subtly different ways.

What matters now is not who produces the best user interface and who presents the shiniest buttons… and key long term determining success factors go further than who best handles security, updates, manageability factors and API connectivity.

The real IoT winners are…

The real winners will be the ones that provide all of the above plus usability, connectivity and interoperability. But why?

As already reported on Internet of Business, computer software company Canonical has today released latest open source software platform, Ubuntu 16, in a move to tackle IoT device security.

“Key to IoT security is the ability to update software,” argues Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth. “So the critical thing we’ve done is to give each actor in the system the ability to publish updates to devices, which are digitally signed.”

Lining up right behind Shuttleworth is IoT veep Jason Shepherd from that ‘oh dear, we think we had better reinvent ourselves as a software-defined company now’ Dell. Shepherd points out that Dell has been polishing its Edge Gateways to give them certification for Ubuntu Core 16 for some time now.

Edge Gateways are interesting, honest

Edge Gateways are interesting (honest), because they connect varied wired and wireless devices (and whole systems) and then aggregate and analyze the input they get before sending it back to the datacenter (or wherever data management happens).

Dell reminds us, “Because an Edge Gateway sits close to your devices and sensors, it sends only meaningful data to the cloud or control center, saving you expensive bandwidth.”

As the selection pack of IoT operating systems now expands, it may be worth holding on to little bits of information like that i.e. these are the actual physical (yes okay, the gateway is virtual, but Dell does produce these things in a box) devices with the intelligence inside that actually perform IoT OS connectivity tasks.

Ubuntu is not the only fruit

Of course Ubuntu is not the only fruit. Microsoft has been refining its Windows 10 for IoT Core product for some time now. Although not fully open source, the product is keeping the interoperability factor high and trying to make sure it connects in a style which the new ‘hey! we’re an open source company now’ Microsoft would be proud of.

Other new favorites include Brillo from Google (yes, obviously named after Brillo pads), which is a lightweight (i.e. not a lot of code) Android-based distribution. We know that the future of Brillo is inexorably tied to Google’s Weave communications protocol — so again, it all comes down to communications and interconnectivity.

The very first thing Google tells software engineers about Brillo is, “Brillo is supported across ARM, Intel x86, and MIPS-based hardware. Compatible boards conform to specific guidelines, making your development experience simple and consistent.”

Compatibility, ease of use & consistency

So you see… it’s all about compatibility, ease of use & consistency. These factors when experienced at the developer level by the software engineers building the Internet of Things ultimately manifest themselves as compatibility, ease of use & consistency features in the final products themselves.

Other rising stars in the IoT OS world include Huawei’s LiteOS, the Yocto Project’s Ostro Linux, Raspian which is one of the distributions for the Raspberry Pi that are more specifically aimed at IoT and the well known Tizen with its backing from Samsung.

It’s a big IoT OS universe out there right now… the winners will not necessarily be the big names or the ones with the most upmarket pedigrees.

The secret lies in mainline merging

Instead it will come down to nuances like customizability and, perhaps, which IoT OSs can be most fluidly merged to and from the mainline kernel of the desktop (or other bigger) OS that the project in question develops alongside.