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Embedded Linux company woos Red Hatter

Specifix snags a new COO who has experience with the challenges and opportunities of the company's mission.

SAN FRANCISCO--Specifix, a company that customizes Linux for embedded computing devices, has hired its new chief operating officer from Red Hat, Specifix said Wednesday.

James Prasad joined the San Jose, Calif.-based company after serving as general manager of Red Hat's European operations and the executive in charge of the company's partnership with embedded software specialist Wind River. Specifix announced the move in conjunction with the Open Source Business Conference here.

While at Red Hat, Prasad worked with Specifix co-founder Kim Knuttila--and before that both worked for a company called Cygnus Solutions that Red Hat acquired in 1999. Cygnus worked on the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC), an open-source programming tool used to create countless software packages.

Much of that original Cygnus mission is now taking place at Specifix. For example, the company builds customized Linux and accompanying programming tools for particular processors and system boards.

Using Linux and open-source software in embedded computing devices such as consumer electronics or factory robots is increasingly popular. But it's a complicated market with fast-changing alliances. For example, the Wind River-Red Hat partnership fizzled as the company produced its own Linux versions instead of employing the Red Hat Enterprise Linux-based product initially envisioned.

Specifix has seen some changes since its founding. The start-up split in two as another co-founder and Red Hat veteran, Erik Troan, instead launched a company called rPath. Troan is chief technology officer, while the chief executive is Billy Marshall, who left his job as Red Hat's sales chief for North America in 2005.

The Raleigh, N.C.-based start-up also announced its flagship product, rBuilder, at the open-source show Tuesday. rBuilder is designed to let software makers turn their products into server appliances with a built-in version of Linux.

rPath announced $6 million in first-round venture funding in January from North Bridge Venture Partners and General Catalyst Partners.