Embedded systems developers are using Java Virtual Machines in increasing numbers, according to Evans Data Corp., but there is still work to be done on improving their performance.

Of the 444 developers Evans surveyed last

month, 36 per cent said they already use or plan to use JVMs, up 10 per cent from the same survey conducted six months ago.

“”When you’re connected to devices over the Internet, sending applications or pulling applications from one device to another is made a lot easier,”” said Tom Williams, analyst with the Santa Cruz, Calif., firm. “”You don’t have to worry about the details of the hardware or the operating system.””

While portability and Internet connectivity are central to JVMs’ appeal in embedded development, some of the developers surveyed cited performance issues and lack of real-time capability as drawbacks.

“”The Java Virtual Machine represents a layer of overhead which can affect performance, because a lot of embedded devices directly control the underlying hardware with the software,”” said Williams, adding that efforts continue within the JVM industry to improve this performance.

The inability to perform real-time functions isn’t a big concern for most developers, according to Espial, an Ottawa-based company that creates operating system-independent applications for embedded devices like Internet appliances, digital and interactive TV, automotive telematics applications.

Bob Egner, vice-president of marketing for Espial, said that less than five per cent of the computation work done in embedded systems needs to be real-time, and often that can be done by porting the work to a programming language like C.

All of Espial’s embedded development requires a JVM, and Egner recognizes that they still have problems. “”More than many other companies, we’re painfully aware of the situation with JVMs,”” he said. “”We’ve been working diligently for the past several years to try to help bring (their) technical feasibility along.””

He said products from JVM suppliers are starting to improve, however, and the growth of standards for JVMs is only aiding that process. For example, Espial relies on a JVM standard called Multimedia Home platform in the TV market.

Far more unsettling than performance issues is the number of embedded development products that never make it to market. Half of the respondents to the Evans survey said that between 10 and 50 per cent of their projects are abandoned. Egner said the industry average is probably much higher — closer to 65 per cent. The market window for embedded devices may be shorter than it takes to develop them, or products are started without a real appreciation of what the market requirements are, said Egner. “”Then there’s the plain, old ‘can’t get it together or get it to work.'””

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