A quick word on QNX & the Blackberry Playbook

imageFor the record, lest you think me biased against an operating system that 99% of the world doesn’t know by name or acronym:  I once worked on business critical development projects that depended on QNX.  Yes, I know its strengths.  QNX is the reason Playbook does multitasking so quickly and the interface is so smooth.

Back in my younger days, I worked for the #1 credit services provider in the world (you figure it out) and when you slide your credit card through that terminal at Ralphs/Kroger, your card information matriculates over a phone line (a asynchronous modem primarily back then) through a series of systems and ultimately, if it’s over a certain charge value threshold, gets authorized by the bank that issued the card to you.  That bank received the transaction through an Intel-based PC… running the QNX operating system.

QNX was chosen back then for its speed & immediacy.  It’s actually a really interesting & impressive operating system.  Unlike Windows 7 and most *NIX-based systems, it’s an ultra-quick, real time kernel-based operating system with single millisecond-level latency, suitable for heart regulators & other medical devices, fast twitch financial transactions such as trading floor applications, or mission critical operations on the Space Shuttle. (In this sense, it’s more closely related to Windows CE)  The maximum threshold for credit authorization transaction turnaround was 7 seconds so it was critical that there be absolutely no delays between the bank that maintains your credit, and the terminal you swiped your card at.

For all its performance, I should point out that QNX has historically had rather raw development tools.  Sure it’s gotten more mature over the years but it’s never been anywhere near what consumer electronics application developers get with Apple’s iOS Xcode, much less Microsoft’s Visual Studio Suite in terms of productive development.  It’s a fast, tight nimble OS… with very few users.  It was said back in the day that QNX – a Canadian company, hence the unsurprising acquisition by another Canadian company (RIM) – lived off the licensing fees from just a couple dozen licensees throughout the world – but because the OS was so absolutely critical to the operations of these licensees (like the aforementioned credit systems provider), QNX never had anything to worry about. 

Then one day, I guess it got acquired.  Not for medical devices.  Not for financial transactions.  But for consumer phones/tablets.  Yup.  A solid OS with strengths in performance… specialized vertical industry use cases… now being used for a PDA.  It just seem like a square peg in a round hole to me.

“I could be wrong.  I’m often wrong.  I’m good at being wrong.  But I don’t think I’m wrong.” – Jim Rome

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