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Open-source OS is a low-cost alternative to Windows for IPCs

04 May, 2022

Beckhoff is offering a new operating system for some of its industrial PCs as a lower-cost alternative to full Microsoft Windows packages.

For many years, the company has used Windows CE as the basic operating system for its IPCs. However, Microsoft has ended mainstream support for this OS and plans to stop distributing it by 2026. So Beckhoff has announced the new system called TwinCat/BSD, which combines its TwinCat runtime platform with FreeBSD, an industrially tested open-source operating system.

Like Windows CE, the new OS is relatively low cost – up to 58% cheaper than full Windows when running on an Intel Atom processor, for example. It is based on the Unix-compatible FreeBSD open-source operating system from Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD). It is continually being developed and optimised by a large group of developers. Beckhoff has a licence for FreeBSD that allows it to be integrated with TwinCat without any problems.

FreeBSD supports both 32- and 64-bit platforms, providing scalable implementation from ARM CPUs up to powerful Xeon CPUs. It has a small footprint, taking up less than 300MB of RAM.

TwinCat/BSD supports all TwinCat 3’s runtime functions. Programming is carried out in the familiar TwinCat 3 XAE environment, based on Microsoft Visual Studio. The new OS offers multi-core support, allowing individual cores to be reserved for exclusive use by TwinCat.

Beckhoff’s TwinCAT/BSD Hypervisor tool allows virtual machines and TwinCat real-time applications to run independently on the same industrial PC, improving the security of control systems.

HTML5 Web browsers can be used as clients for TwinCat HMI, with configuration taking place via the graphic editor of TwinCat 3 XAE.

Simultaneous execution of virtual machines (VMs) and TwinCat real-time applications is possible using a software tool called TwinCAT/BSD Hypervisor. The high-performance execution of VMs allows different operating systems to run on one PC and improves security by operating user environments in an isolated, modular fashion.

For example, TwinCat real-time applications can run separately from Windows desktop environments for machine operation, with Windows running in a VM environment. Windows restarts – due, for example, to software updates – will not interrupt machine control. Windows is only restarted in the VM environment, and TwinCat continues to run in real time, supported by the TwinCat/BSD host.

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