Toshiba ramps up local Linux-based R&D

Despite all the talk of offshoring software development to developing nations, computer and electronics giant Toshiba is expanding its Sydney research and development centre, which uses Linux as its platform of choice.

Toshiba Australia's research and development centre, located in the North West Sydney suburb of North Ryde, houses some 40 software engineers who develop the company's colour management software, which goes into every printer and copier Toshiba sells worldwide.

The same software is also on-sold to other device manufacturers, including Panasonic.

Research and development division general manager Martin Corr said the group is now beginning to branch out into scanning software and device driver development.

"It's cheaper to do development here than the US, Europe and even Japan," Corr said.

Corr said development is cheaper in India and China but when productivity and quality are factored into the overall cost, the local centre comes out "about even".

The engineers develop with the open source Linux operating system. The software is deployed in Toshiba's multifunction devices, which run the proprietary VxWorks Real-Time operating system from Wind River, also a Linux vendor.

Corr said since all development is done with Linux he would be happy to see it used to run Toshiba's devices but "that's not my decision".

Toshiba has not disclosed its investment in the Sydney R&D centre, but says it's "in the millions" compared with a global R&D spend of billions.

With Toshiba's multifunction devices running on Power processors, the centre also uses PowerPC-based Apple Macs - including Mac Mini and PowerMac G5 machines - for development and testing. Corr said Toshiba is unlikely to follow Apple and move its devices from the Power architecture to Intel "for various reasons".

The R&D centre also develops software to ensure printing from enterprise applications like Oracle and SAP works with its devices, and the team has started developing device drivers for Windows Vista.

Internally, Toshiba uses Linux and BSD Unix for file serving and other infrastructure.

When asked how well Toshiba supports Linux on its notebooks, Corr said while it is generally good and the centre uses it internally, market demand means we shouldn't expect Linux to replace Windows anytime soon.