Not just a pretty (inter)face

Hey, do you remember Open Look? It was the GUI specification used by QNX Windows, a windowing system for versions 2 to 4 of the QNX RTOS. Open Look had a clean, simple appearance based on the philosophy that the application, not the windowing system, should hold the user’s attention. Gaudy, it wasn’t.

QNX Windows appeared on the scene in 1990, back when most desktop PCs still used DOS. Amazingly, it could run on 16-bit 286 machines with 2MB of RAM — and, remember, we're talking about a true windowing system here, not a simple graphics library. Developers used QNX Windows for a variety of mission-critical applications, including mail-sorting machines for the US Postal Service and a statistical process control system for a Motorola semiconductor fab.

The QNX Windows file manager, circa 1990.

So why am I mentioning all this? Because, while other RTOS vendors offer programming interfaces, they provide little in the way of user interfaces — unless you count the command-line prompt. QNX, in comparison, has been at the forefront of embedded HMIs for as long as I can remember.

Witness the QNX Photon microGUI, the first windowing system based on a microkernel architecture. And the QNX graphics framework, which allows embedded developers to build user interfaces with Adobe Flash Lite and the OpenGL ES 3D API. (The QNX digital instrument cluster is a good example of an application that combines uses both Flash and OpenGL ES in the same display.) I find Flash support especially interesting, since it saves developers from having to code, and often recode, their GUI components by hand.

In fact, QNX has even begun to reach beyond graphical interfaces with its acoustic processing technology, which helps handsfree and voice recognition systems work more effectively.

Because, sometimes, a word is worth a thousand icons. Well, something like that. :-)

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