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Wind River looks to Linux for profits

The consumer device software seller announces development tools for programmers who want to build products that use embedded Linux.

Wind River Systems, which sells software that powers a variety of electronic devices, has created development tools for programmers who want to build such products for machines that run Linux.

On Thursday, the company announced its first move to support embedded Linux, a version of the open-source operating system that has been tailored to work with small devices such as cell phones, personal digital assistants, medical equipment and a variety of other applications.

Embedded Linux competes in some markets with Wind River's own embedded operating system, VxWorks, but the company has decided that it's better to join the movement than to fight it.

"What has happened over the last few years is a lot of the in-house development has gone to Linux," said David Fraser, vice president of product business for Wind River. "It is a tremendous business opportunity for us to provide developer tools to the Linux market."

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Fraser hopes that the move will boost sagging sales, hit not by the increase in Linux development for electronics devices but by a troubled communications market.

"Communications was more than 70 percent of our business," he said, adding that in the latest quarter, the communications market had shrunk to 31 percent of its sales. Wind River posted $99 million in revenue for the first six months of 2003, down from $130 million for the same period the previous year. The company's toolset sales account for about $30 million in annual sales, Fraser said.

Wind River plans to extend its tool for emulating hardware systems, called VisionProbe II, to support Linux and promises to release more tools in the future. Initially, the tool will support Linux that runs on the IBM PowerPC 405 processor family and will support additional IBM and Motorola PowerPC devices by the end of this quarter, with support for processors from MIPS Technologies processors planned for the future.

A study published in March by technology research company Evans Data found that more than half of the developers surveyed planned to use Linux as the basis for their current or next project.

The study, however, also supports Wind River's assertion that there is an opportunity to sell better tools to such developers: Only one in four programmers rated the development tools for embedded Linux as "good" or "excellent."