Why do organizations rely on the RTOS?

Take part in our survey to find out what everyone thinks.

Sponsored Feature We're all familiar with operating systems (OSs). The device you're reading this on, and the one I'm writing it on. Both have one – Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Linux, whatever. These OSs work really well in the average case. Leaving aside the generally subjective moans about the ones you don't use "because they're rubbish", they must all actually be quite good if only because of their longevity.

Many of them are used in systems where reliability and stability matter too. We've all seen Windows-based ATMs or X-ray machines, and plenty of the world's banking platforms sit on a Linux base. And although airline pilots generally have paper-based failbacks, this doesn't stop them relying on a tablet computer for their navigation charts, checklists and whatnot.

There is an Achilles' heel though. The one you hear about when the sound of a sharp "crack" of mouse slamming on desk is fired across the office, followed immediately by a cry of "Oh, come ON!". From time to time, stuff hangs. The 'Blue Circle of Death' in Windows, the 'Spinning Pizza of Doom' on the Mac. We've all seen them. And sworn at them.

Would you trust your tunnelling system's jam detector for example, or the Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) on your flight to Tenerife, to run on a mainstream OS? Of course you wouldn't. Because there's a significant chance of some timing issue caused by a resource-greedy process getting in the way of a timely response to a safety-critical event.

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This where a Real Time Operating System – RTOS – can show its worth. As one definition puts it, an RTOS is "the OS that guarantees real-time applications a certain capability within a specified deadline", where "Any delays in responding could have disastrous consequences".

Why do they exist? The flippant answer is: because we have an increasing number of applications that rely on timing and prompt response. But why's that the case?

Perhaps virtualisation is a major factor. Back in the day you might write a chunk of C – or even assembly code – that you could compile to run as an atomic (single) executable on a single-user machine as a stand-alone app. These days you're more likely to be writing a routine in C# that uses .NET libraries to run portable code on a Windows OS using a virtual server on a Hyper-V host, which is actually running another Windows OS.

That's great in the general case, but it's not hard to see why you might decide to run some critical processes – the ones that need definitive, predictable, reliable timing – alongside it on RTOS-based systems.

So, we are interested in you, dear reader. Are you using, or considering using, Real Time Operating Systems? If so, what industry are you in? Which of the properties of RTOSs matters most to you? What key features of an RTOS matter to you now or will matter in the future? And on what factors do you (or would you) base your decision when choosing a Real Time Operating System?

If you can take just a few minutes to answer our four questions on RTOS features and priorities above, we can tell you what people thought in a couple of weeks when the survey closes.


Sponsored by Windriver.

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