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Wind River pulls in new chief

The dominant maker of software for embedded computer devices taps former Mercury Interactive COO Ken Klein, as it grapples with a shift to Linux.

Wind River Systems board member Ken Klein has taken over as chairman and chief executive, the software company said Wednesday.

Klein will take charge of Wind River, the dominant maker of software for "embedded" computing devices such as airplane radar systems, DVD players and nerve gas detectors. The company has suffered recently, however, as key telecommunications industry customers have cut back on spending and as rivals such as Microsoft and Linux have emerged.

Klein replaces former CEO Tom St. Dennis, who left the Alameda, Calif.-based company in June and took a job in July as executive vice president of sales and customer satisfaction at chip equipment maker Novellus. In addition, Klein, who joined Wind River's board in July, will take the place of chairman from co-founder Jerry Fiddler.

Klein had been chief operating officer of Mercury Interactive, which sells software for managing business processes.

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Finances haven't been easy at Wind River. In its most recently reported quarter, ended July 31, its revenue grew 4 percent to $50.4 million, but it still posted a net loss of $9.3 million.

Wind River is in the midst of adapting its products so that they work with Linux, a significant change. In October, after years of promoting its own operating systems--chiefly VxWorks--the company released a line of Linux programming tools. That shift means Wind River poses a more direct threat to embedded Linux specialists such as MontaVista Software and TimeSys.

The Linux operating system, a relative of Unix, has been most commercially successful on servers, which typically have vastly more computing power at their disposal than most embedded computing devices do. Now, embedded computing customers, including the biggest makers of consumer electronics, are beginning to adopt Linux.

Wind River hasn't been Linux's biggest fan, however.

"Linux has a lot of issues for embedded (devices)," Fiddler said in an interview in April. "It's not nearly as nice a fit as it is for the server world."

In addition, because of the General Public License that governs Linux, "the intellectual property issues are very substantial," Fiddler said. Chiefly, the license makes it harder to mix the open-source OS with proprietary modules common in the embedded world, he said.

Before its Linux embrace, Wind River had preferred a different open-source license, the one that governed the BSD offshoot of Unix. Wind River began a plan to use BSD as its open-source operating system, but much of that plan fell by the wayside.

Wind River said in June that it would discontinue its BSD/OS product a year later. The cancellation came because the company's financial forecast showed that the product line wasn't expected to meet with stronger demand, a company representative said.