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Formula One gives Wind River green flag

New rules permit pit crews to send electronic commands to the car to change its configuration while on the track. Wind River Systems is revving its engine.

Wind River Systems, a maker of software that powers many of the lesser-known types of computing devices hidden in the fabric of the high-tech world, has won approval to have its operating system used in Formula One race cars.

The company will announce Wednesday that the Federation Internationale de L'Automobile (FIA), which governs Formula One and other auto racing, approved Wind River's VxWorks operating system. Several teams, including Ferrari, Renault, Toyota and Minardi are using the software in their cars, Wind River plans to announce.

The deal means some much-needed revenue for Wind River, the largest maker of "embedded" software, which is used to run everything from slot machines to airplane radar to microwave ovens to network modems.

Wind River would like to be as dominant in embedded computing as Microsoft is in desktop machines, but the company faces competition from Microsoft, other embedded software companies such as QNX Software Systems, Linux seller Red Hat, and start-ups such as MontaVista Software.

In contrast to the desktop marketplace, though, which is overwhelmingly dominated by Microsoft's Windows OS, embedded computing systems aren't effectively standardized on one or two operating systems. That leaves room for Wind River and others to increase sales if they can convince customers to switch from their own custom operating systems.

Throttling up
VxWorks is used in an engine-control product from Italian race technology company Magneti Marelli. It's used by Ferrari and several other teams.

The system controls the engine and can wirelessly transmit data to pit crews monitoring the car's performance. The technology also provides a foundation for a new FIA-approved development for the 2002 racing season: Pit crews now are permitted to send electronic commands to the car to change its configuration--such as suspension response or oxygen intake.

In the Magneti Marelli device, this data exchange takes place using TCP/IP, the networking standard that underlies the Internet.

Wind River reports financial results for its first quarter of fiscal 2003 on Thursday, with analysts surveyed by First Call expecting a loss of 13 cents per share. The company's stock slipped earlier in May when it warned revenue would be less than expected.

Needham analyst Jeffrey Macy said the drop in expected revenue, from a range of $76 million to $80 million to a range of $64 million to $66 million, was chiefly because of curtailed spending at telecommunications companies that use Wind River software in their networking products. Telecommunications customers account for about half of Wind River's revenue, he said.