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QNX (/ / or //) is a commercial Unix-like real-time operating system, aimed primarily at the embedded systems market. The product was originally developed in the early 1980s by Canadian company Quantum Software Systems, later renamed QNX Software Systems and ultimately acquired by BlackBerry in 2010. QNX was one of the first commercially successful microkernel operating systems and is used in a variety of devices including cars and mobile phones.
The default desktop in QNX 6.4.1
|Source model||Shared source|
|Latest release||7.0 / March 2017|
|Marketing target||Embedded systems|
|Package manager||Able to use Pkgsrc framework from NetBSD project|
|Platforms||Intel 8088, x86, MIPS, PowerPC, SH-4, ARM, StrongARM, XScale|
|Kernel type||RTOS (Microkernel)|
As a microkernel-based OS, QNX is based on the idea of running most of the operating system kernel in the form of a number of small tasks, known as servers. This differs from the more traditional monolithic kernel, in which the operating system kernel is a single very large program composed of a huge number of "parts" with special abilities. In the case of QNX, the use of a microkernel allows users (developers) to turn off any functionality they do not require without having to change the OS itself; instead, those servers will simply not run.
QNX Neutrino (2001) has been ported to a number of platforms and now runs on practically any modern CPU that is used in the embedded market. This includes the PowerPC, x86 family, MIPS, SH-4, and the closely inter-related family of ARM, StrongARM and XScale CPUs.
QNX offers a license for non-commercial and academic users.
The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet computer designed by BlackBerry uses a version of QNX as the primary operating system. Devices from BlackBerry running the BlackBerry 10 operating system are also based on QNX.
Gordon Bell and Dan Dodge, students at the University of Waterloo in 1980, both took a standard computer science course in operating system design, in which the students constructed a basic real-time kernel. Both were convinced there was a commercial need for such a system, and moved to the high-tech planned community Kanata, Ontario, to start Quantum Software Systems that year. In 1982, the first version of QUNIX was released for the Intel 8088 CPU. In 1984 Quantum Software Systems renamed QUNIX to QNX in an effort to avoid any trademark infringement challenges. One of first widespread uses of the QNX real-time OS (RTOS) was in the non-embedded world, when it was selected as the operating system for the Ontario education system's own computer design, the Unisys ICON. Over the years QNX was used mostly for "larger" projects, as its 44k kernel was too large to fit inside the single-chip computers of the era. The system garnered a reputation for reliability and found itself in use running machinery in a number of industrial applications.
In the late-1980s, Quantum realized that the market was rapidly moving towards the POSIX model and decided to rewrite the kernel to be much more compatible at a low level. The result was QNX 4. During this time Patrick Hayden, while working as an intern, along with Robin Burgener (a full-time employee at the time), developed a new windowing system. This patented concept was developed into the embeddable GUI named the QNX Photon microGUI. QNX also provided a version of the X Window System.
Toward the end of the 1990s, the company (now called QNX Software Systems) began work on a new version of QNX, designed from the ground up to be SMP capable, and to support all current POSIX APIs and any new POSIX APIs that could be anticipated while still retaining the microkernel architecture. This resulted in QNX Neutrino, released in 2001.
Along with the Neutrino kernel, QNX Software Systems became a founding member of the Eclipse consortium. The company released a suite of Eclipse plug-ins packaged with the Eclipse workbench in 2002 under the name QNX Momentics Tool Suite.
In 2004, the company announced it had been sold to Harman International Industries. Prior to this acquisition, QNX software was already widely used in the automotive industry for telematics systems. Since the purchase by Harman, QNX software has been designed into over 200 different automobile makes and models — not only in telematics systems but in infotainment and navigation units as well. The QNX CAR Application Platform is running in over 20 million vehicles as of mid-2011. The company has since released several middleware products including the QNX Aviage Multimedia Suite, the QNX Aviage Acoustic Processing Suite and the QNX HMI Suite.
In September 2007, QNX Software Systems announced the availability of some of its source code.
On April 9, 2010, Research In Motion announced they would acquire QNX Software Systems from Harman International Industries. On the same day, QNX source code access was restricted from the public and hobbyists.
On October 18, 2011, Research In Motion announced "BBX" which was later renamed to BlackBerry 10 in December 2011. Blackberry 10 devices build upon the BlackBerry PlayBook QNX based operating system for touch devices, but adapt the user interface for smartphones using the Qt based Cascades Native User-Interface framework.
At the Geneva Motor Show, Apple demonstrated CarPlay which provides an iOS-like user interface to head units in compatible vehicles. Once configured by the automaker, QNX can be programmed to handoff its display and certain functionality to an Apple CarPlay device.
In January, 2017, QNX announced the upcoming release of its SDP 7.0, with support for Intel and ARM 32- and 64-bit platforms, and support for C++14. QNX SDP 7.0 was released in March, 2017.
The QNX kernel contains only CPU scheduling, interprocess communication, interrupt redirection and timers. Everything else runs as a user process, including a special process known as proc which performs process creation and memory management by operating in conjunction with the microkernel. This is made possible by two key mechanisms — subroutine-call type interprocess communication, and a boot loader which can load an image containing not only the kernel but any desired collection of user programs and shared libraries. There are no device drivers in the kernel. The network stack is based on NetBSD code. Along with its support for its own, native, device drivers, QNX supports its legacy, io-net manager server, and the network drivers ported from NetBSD.
QNX interprocess communication consists of sending a message from one process to another and waiting for a reply. This is a single operation, called MsgSend. The message is copied, by the kernel, from the address space of the sending process to that of the receiving process. If the receiving process is waiting for the message, control of the CPU is transferred at the same time, without a pass through the CPU scheduler. Thus, sending a message to another process and waiting for a reply does not result in "losing one's turn" for the CPU. This tight integration between message passing and CPU scheduling is one of the key mechanisms that makes QNX message passing broadly usable. Most Unix and Linux interprocess communication mechanisms lack this tight integration, although a user space implementation of QNX-type messaging for Linux does exist. Mishandling of this subtle issue is a primary reason for the disappointing performance of some other microkernel systems such as early versions of Mach.
All I/O operations, file system operations, and network operations were meant to work through this mechanism, and the data transferred was copied during message passing. Later versions of QNX reduce the number of separate processes and integrate the network stack and other function blocks into single applications for performance reasons.
Message handling is prioritized by thread priority. Since I/O requests are performed using message passing, high priority threads receive I/O service before low priority threads, an essential feature in a hard real-time system.
The boot loader is the other key component of the minimal microkernel system. Because user programs can be built into the boot image, the set of device drivers and support libraries needed for startup need not be, and are not, in the kernel. Even such functions as program loading are not in the kernel, but instead are in shared user-space libraries loaded as part of the boot image. It is possible to put an entire boot image into ROM, which is used for diskless embedded systems.
Neutrino supports symmetric multiprocessing and processor affinity, called bound multiprocessing (BMP) in QNX terminology. BMP is used to improve cache hitting and to ease the migration of non-SMP safe applications to multi-processor computers.
Neutrino supports strict priority-preemptive scheduling and adaptive partition scheduling (APS). APS guarantees minimum CPU percentages to selected groups of threads, even though others may have higher priority. The adaptive partition scheduler is still strictly priority-preemptive when the system is underloaded. It can also be configured to run a selected set of critical threads strictly real time, even when the system is overloaded.
Transparent Distributed ProcessingEdit
Due to its microkernel architecture QNX is also a distributed operating system. Dan Dodge and Peter van der Veen hold US patent 6,697,876 on 'Distributed kernel operating system'  based on the QNX operating system's distributed processing features known commercially as Transparent Distributed Processing. This allows the QNX kernels on separate devices to access each other's system services using effectively the same communication mechanism as is used to access local services.
OpenQNX is a QNX Community Portal established and run independently. An IRC channel and Newsgroups access via web is available. Diverse industries are represented by the developers on the site.
Foundry27 is a web-based QNX community established by the company. It serves as a hub to QNX Neutrino development where developers can register, choose the license, and get the source code and related toolkit of the RTOS.
This section needs to be updated.(July 2017)
PC Magazine stated in April 1983 that QNX was "an extraordinary piece of software". Citing its multitasking, the review concluded that "QNX gives you the power to maximize utilization of the PC's resources".
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- RIM Unveils The BlackBerry PlayBook, official press release, September 27, 2010
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- https://www.google.com/patents/US6697876 Distributed kernel operating system
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