Wind River, Red Hat team on embedded Linux

A major force in software embedded in devices such as cell phones, Wind River signs a deal with leading Linux seller Red Hat to jointly develop a version of the open-source software.

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Stephen Shankland
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Wind River, a major force in software embedded in devices such as cell phones and factory robots, has signed a deal with leading Linux seller Red Hat to jointly develop a version of the open-source software, the companies announced Monday.

Under the deal, both companies' engineers will create Red Hat Embedded Linux, a variant of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Wind River will be the "premier" sales channel for the software and will support it in its development tools, according to the companies.

Terms such as revenue sharing, product availability, partnership exclusivity or deal duration weren't revealed, but "both parties expect this to be a long a prosperous partnership," Wind River said in a statement.

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The move marks a major change for the companies and for the embedded Linux market, which until now hasn't had to reckon much with either company.

Wind River announced in 2003 it would embrace Linux alongside its proprietary VxWorks operating system, but that effort couldn't go far without a version of Linux. And Red Hat largely scrapped an embedded Linux effort begun in 1999 to concentrate instead on server software.

Meanwhile, the embedded Linux market has been active. One embedded Linux specialist, MontaVista Software, said in February that its revenue grew 77 percent from 2002 to 2003 and that its software was selected for more than 500 new devices in 2003.

Other specialists include TimeSys, LynuxWorks, Motorola's Metrowerks and FSMLabs.

Linux isn't the only factor in the embedded market, either. Microsoft is gunning for the market as well, and embedded specialists such as Green Hills Software are campaigning against Linux.

The partnership between Red Hat and Wind River is the second major change in the Linux landscape this year. Novell--which like Wind River reversed a previous distaste for Linux--acquired the No. 2 SuSE Linux for $210 million in January.

Turning over the Linux leaf
Wind River previously was leery of Linux, expressing concerns about the intellectual property foundations of the open-source software. Instead, it tried in 2001 using another open-source Unix offshoot, FreeBSD, because of its more straightforward coexistence with proprietary software, but that effort failed later that year.

The company has changed course now, hiring Ken Klein as chief executive and joining several Linux-related groups: the Open Source Development Labs, the Eclipse Consortium and the Consumer Electronics Linux Forum.

Linux and VxWorks are largely complementary, not overlapping, asserted David Fraser, chief marketing officer. VxWorks is good for small devices that must turn on very quickly, but Linux is good for high-end consumer electronics devices with hard drives and for replacing Unix in telecommunications servers, he said.

Other Wind River news
Wind River made several other announcements Monday.

Alameda, Calif.-based Wind River reported fiscal fourth-quarter results Monday. Net income was $1.4 million, or 2 cents per share, for the quarter, which ended Jan. 31. That compares with a net loss of $37.5 million, or 47 cents per share, in the same quarter last year. Revenue was $55.6 million for the quarter, compared with $60.9 million in the same quarter last year.

The company also released information on new software tools, Wind Power IDE 2, that let programmers develop software for Linux, VxWorks, or a combination of the two. For the tools, Wind River scrapped its own proprietary framework in favor of the open-source Eclipse software, Fraser said.

Development tools in the embedded market aren't just for creating software that uses an operating system, but also for selecting features of the operating system itself. Requirements vary considerably depending on whether an operating system is used for a wind power turbine, nerve gas detector or video recording systems.

In addition, Wind River sells higher-level software with features such as data security, remote diagnostics and integration with Microsoft's .Net software for Web services, Fraser said. Those modules will work with either VxWorks or Linux.

Over the past 18 months, Wind River has integrated its own programming modules with Eclipse, Fraser said. Using the new foundation means that other modules from companies such as IBM's Rational group also can easily be used, he added.

In addition, Wind River announced version 6 of VxWorks, which has been boosted with many interface features from Linux to make it easier for programmers to write for both systems.

The company is also overhauling its pricing strategy. Previously, it sold its software, development tools and services for $8,000 to $20,000 per developer per year plus a per-unit royalty once a customer's products shipped using Wind River software. The royalty varied according to the volume of devices shipped; low-priced items that sold by the millions such as digital cameras had a royalty in the range of 50 cents apiece.

Now Wind River is offering a new pricing plan that increases the per-seat subscription but drops the per-unit royalty, Fraser said.