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When RipCode decided to build a video transcoding device three years ago, it used MontaVista Linux Professional Edition, a platform designed for developers who want all the benefits of an open source development environment.
Dallas, Texas-based RipCode, a privately held startup entity founded in 2005, not only was operating on a six-month deadline to develop and deliver its RipCode V4 video transcoding device, but also was focusing on securing funding.
By leveraging MontaVista Software's Linux technology, RipCode was able to bring RipCode V4 -- designed to process the highest volume of Internet-based video formats available in a single rack-unit chassis -- to market much sooner than it otherwise would have been able to.
"At the very first phase, we had four people building the original prototype," says Cuong Nguyen, a RipCode software architect who joined the company the year it went with the MontaVista solution. "There was no way we could do a GUI if we didn't leverage a lot of existing software. We essentially were building a hardware product for transcoding.
"We needed control software and business logic to control the platform. We wanted to spend the majority of our time on the control effort, using an OS that is easily embedded. So to get all that stuff running, we considered VxWorks. We only considered Linux. One of our engineers had prior experience with MontaVista. So that was the real reason [we chose it].... We tried to build our own distribution, and that meant we needed to get the driver for the board. It just so happened that MontaVista already had that."
While Nguyen says the project has been a success, the acknowledges that RipCode developers faced some challenges. One of the issues stemmed from RipCode's insistence on selecting a stable version of MontaVista Linux.
"[W]e chose a stable version of [the solution], but we chose it right at the cutoff version, so we didn't have the advantage of some of the upgrades," Nguyen says. "There are releases constantly, and if you want a stable product you can't chase upgrades.
"We actually discovered kernel bugs and overloading the system.... We had to rewrite some drivers when we did a kernel upgrade. And now we have strategies to do it better in the future. In some sense, if we had chosen BSD, which doesn't change often, that could have been a possible choice. Even now, we are still exposing some kernel bugs that are difficult. A real-time environment that stresses the system shows the bugs. We're stressing it more than typical."
In terms of how things are going since the decision to use MontaVista Linux, the proof is in the pudding. In September of last year, the company scored a major victory when it announced that MySpaceTV had successfully wrapped up a trial of the RipCode V4 application. The trial, said RipCode in a news release, made MySpaceTV the largest video Internet site to address the growing volume of video transcodes using an appliance- based solution.
RipCode has previously disclosed that using MontaVista Linux as opposed to trying to reinvent the proverbial wheel likely saved it between $4 and $5 million in both time and resources during the development of the device. Nguyen, however, looks at things from the familiarity perspective rather than the dollars-and-cents perspective.
"Personally for me, I've worked in Linux my entire career, and a lot of us are like that," he says. "So when we chose Linux the comfort level was there. We also know the packages we can use on the system. So it allowed us to provide a base very quickly, and then we could build business logic on top of that. We didn't have anyone specialized. We had everyone doing everything. So we can have a small team and we could do a lot of work. If we hadn't worked on the existing Linux knowledge, we couldn't have done that."
Nguyen, who says that his company is right now working on the second release of its product, insists that startups facing issues similar to the ones that RipCode faced three years ago would benefit from building on a proven platform to get products to market sooner.
"MontaVista Linux fit right into our reference board," says Nguyen. "All the drivers were there. It was very easy to do quickly."
Ian Palmer is a freelance writer based near Toronto, Canada, who focuses on technology and business issues.