Wind River To Target Handhelds with Linux

Embedded old-liner moves to buttress proprietary past by embracing Red Hat and the Eclipse development environment for its embedded tools.

Saying its tough times are behind it, embedded software player Wind River is embracing Linux in a new bid to expand the use of open source on a wider array of computing devices.

As part of its newly-enhanced embrace of Linux, the Alameda, Calif.-based Wind River is teaming up with number one Linux distributor Red Hat in order to develop more usage of Linux for devices. The deal with the Raleigh, N.C.-based Red Hat means its enterprise version of Linux will be the foundation of Wind River Linux-based Platforms and will be integrated with Wind River's own tools, middleware and services, the companies said.

The strategy could prove a catalyst for the growth of Linux in new computing devices. The deal deploys Red Hat's Enterprise Linux open source distribution along side Wind River's own proprietary real-time operating system built on the company's VxWorks, and VxWorks-based Wind River Platforms.

For the first time, developers will be able to standardize device software development across the enterprise with VxWorks, Linux or both, the companies said.

Monday's announcements also extend the strategy Wind River launched last fall when it first disclosed plans to offer Linux-related technologies alongside its homegrown, proprietary VxWorks embedded operating system.

Embedded operating systems are used to control dedicated non-desktop devices such as industrial computers, PDAs, set-top boxes, and consumer electronics.

Now, the latest announcements signal a new shift for Wind River in its market focus with operating systems, developer tools, middleware, and services.

"We're making significant enhancements to all elements of our platform strategy," said Dave Fraser, Wind River's chief marketing officer.

"Beyond our proprietary VxWorks operating system, we'll be producing platforms that include and embrace Linux," explained Fraser. A big reason for the embrace of Linux is the demand of customers to move towards standards, he said.

"Linux is a very aggressively emerging technology in the embedded and smart-device [i.e., handheld] space and we want to expand the range of applications that our customers can implement," Fraser said.

To that end, Wind River will replacing its longtime Tornado software-development environment with a platform based on the open-source Eclipse framework. The new offering has been dubbed the WindPower 2.0 integrated development environment (IDE). "We've been members of the Eclipse consortium for over a year," said Fraser. "This is our first Eclipse-based products."

WindPower 2.0 also marks a repositioning of the company's software-tools operation for one which supported VxWorks to a stand alone business.

However, as Wind River moves closer to Linux, it's not abandoning VxWorks. As part of the new series of announcements, the company is releasing what it calls a major upgrade of its proprietary OS in the form of VxWorks 6.0.

Major improvements include communication and compatibility features which allow VxWorks to work alongside Linux in dual-operating-system configurations.

Indeed, Wind River could be walking a fine line with a strategy that stands astride two operating systems, one proprietary, the other free. "Our goal is to offer platforms that extend both VxWorks and Linux," Michel Genard, Wind River's senior director of platform marketing. "We want to expand the range of applications we service."

One area considered ripe for exploitation is what Fraser called "the real-time enterprise," in which embedded devices are increasingly deployed to help businesses reach out and touch consumers and users and offer them services.

"What that means for us is, we're extremely interested in putting middleware in our platforms that help link together the device space with the enterprise space."

Wind River said it will also provide a royalty free licensing option under which developers can opt to pay a one-time up front fee. Customers who'd rather not go with Wind River's customary production license model, which they will also continue to offer as an option, won't have to make per-unit royalty payments for each system they ship.

The new licensing model is part of a series of corporate restructuring changes Wind River has made to get back on the road to financial health after several tough years. "There's been a pretty significant transition to the company already," Fraser said. "Things have stabilized for our company in terms of the organization. We've got a new chief executive who's very aggressive and focused on growing the business. We wanted to take advantage of the fact that it looks like the economy is turning around and our customers are investing."

The company's new CEO, Ken Klein, emphasized as much in a recently released open letter to the company's customers. "In the last year, Wind River made a pivotal shift by acknowledging Linux in embedded [devices] and even going as far as providing technology and services to support Linux," he wrote. "Customer response to this shift has been extremely positive, and as the new CEO, I look forward in furthering the co-existence of VxWorks, our market-specific integrated embedded platforms and Linux."

Wind River will also roll out its latest quarterly earnings report this morning and hold a conference call with Wall Street analysts. Company officials said, in general terms, that after several disappointing years following the bursting of the technology bubble, the company was on a renewed course to financial health, had not had any recent layoffs, and was currently at a corporate headcount of "well over" 1,000 employees.






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