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Wind River’s next embedded Linux step: development services

Dec 8, 2003 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

Wind River, the world's largest embedded software company, has announced its intention to formally enter the embedded Linux services market, competing with more established embedded Linux vendors like MontaVista, TimeSys, LynuxWorks, and Metrowerks. Wind River says it does not currently plan to market its own brand of embedded Linux; however, its new plan to offer embedded Linux tools and services pits it… squarely against the leaders of an embedded Linux market differentiated primarily by exactly that: tools and services.

“Linux is Linux is Linux,” the saying goes — until development experience, tools, services, and support are taken into account. And with surveys indicating that embedded Linux system developers are more concerned about tools than specific Linux distributions, a growing number of embedded Linux vendors are declaring their support for multiple embedded Linux distributions, including those of competitors. For example, TimeSys recently launched a broad tools marketing initiative in support of “any Linux,” and Metrowerks has also long touted its tools and services support for multiple Linux distributions.

Stepping up to the (embedded Linux) plate

Wind River officially entered the embedded Linux market on October 3rd of this year, in an announcement that rocked the embedded Linux world, given Wind River's past history of deprecating Linux and the GPL. At that time, the company launched hardware bring-up tools for embedded Linux, describing the move as “just the first step” in a broader strategic shift toward Linux.

Wind River took another step last week, when it announced that it has been working with the Eclipse Consortium for some time, and is readying development tools based on the Eclipse open platform for cross-vendor tools integration. In just two years, the Eclipse platform has seen widespread adoption from multiple embedded Linux vendors, including TimeSys and MontaVista, and from other embedded OS vendors, such as QNX.

Additionally, Wind River announced last week that it has joined the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) in order to better understand and advance Carrier Grade Linux (CGL). CGL co-habitates more and more commonly with Wind River's proprietary, royalty-based VxWorks operating system in sophisticated telecommunications systems. Telecom — once half of Wind River's revenue stream — now accounts for just 30 percent of the company's business, according to Michel Genard, general manager of hardware assisted and standalone tools at Wind River.

Not “distributing” Linux?

Wind River claims it does not intend to create a branded embedded Linux distribution, and a recent E-Commerce Times article quoted a company spokesperson saying that Wind River views development tools and services as the “safest place” to incorporate Linux into its strategy, “which initially will be aimed at the telecom market.”

But make no mistake — Wind River will most certainly deliver complete Linux operating systems to customers.

Asked whether the company's Professional Services division would distribute Linux to its customers, Wind River's Brad Murdoch, general manager and VP professional services, said, “Oh, absolutely. The deliverables will include the Linux kernel and everything else that goes along with it.”

Murdoch added, “That's not in the same way that we'd license some of our proprietary software.”

Wind River has been strong critic of Linux and the GPL for many years, and the company is still reluctant to say that it will become a Linux distributor. Demeaning the value of branding its own Linux distribution could be viewed as its opening salvo against competitors in the embedded Linux market, many of which have invested heavily in branding campaigns for house-labeled distributions.

In a recent interview with's Editor-in-Chief Rick Lehrbaum, Wind River VP of Products Dave Fraser noted, “At this point in time, independent of our feelings about GPL — which haven't changed all that much [ed. note: read about those views here] — we don't think there's much value in putting together a Linux distribution. The value isn't in the OS, the value is in how you make the OS utilized for a particular application.”

Murdoch adds, “Most of our customers have already selected a distribution vendor or are supporting it themselves” (i.e. creating their own Linux OS starting from downloaded sources such as

Indeed, this tendency is confirmed by embedded market surveys conducted by, VDC, EDC, and others, which indicate that commercial embedded Linux distributions represent a minority of the sources of Linux used in embedded applications.

Asked if he was concerned about the possibility that Wind River could lose account control by not offering its own formal embedded Linux distribution, Fraser said, “I do not believe that embedded Linux distributors have any account control. It is, after all, Linux.”

Piece of the pie

According to an Oct., 2002 Evans Data Corp. embedded developer survey, about ten percent of all embedded projects were based on Linux in 2002 — about the same percentage that were based on Wind River's VxWorks. But, asked what they planned use in their next embedded project, 30 percent of the projects were expected to be based on Linux, and only about 13 percent on VxWorks, a clear indication that the embedded Linux opportunity is growing much faster than that for VxWorks.

How big is the embedded software market? According to a March, 2003 report from Venture Development Corp. (VDC), shipments of embedded operating systems, bundled products, and related services reached over $600 million during 2002, and are projected to grow to over $1 billion by 2007.

If Linux continues to enjoy its rapid rate of growth — as seems likely considering embedded advancements in Linux 2.6 — it may well grow to nearly half the embedded software market by 2007, which translates into a potential half billion dollar opportunity for embedded Linux operating systems, tools, and services.

Growing services revenue

As of January 31, 2003, just 17 percent of Wind River's staff of 1,507 worked in its Professional Services group, according to the company's annual report. Yet, the Services team has garnered an increasing share of the company's overall revenue. During fiscal years 2001, 2002, and 2003, respectively, Wind River's service-related revenues grew from 29 to 32 to 34 percent of company totals. Wind River's Product Development and Engineering team, meanwhile, comprised 38 percent of staff, while product-related revenues declined from 71 to 68 to 66 percent.

Asked if the shifting balance reflected a strategic shift or market realities, Fraser replied, “We see a services opportunity.”

As the largest professional services team in the embedded industry — with 20 years experience in the field — Wind River has often been asked by customers to support products other than its own, noted Murdoch. Lately, that has meant Linux. “We've been increasingly requested to assist with Linux-based products,” Murdoch said.

Murdoch revealed that Wind River has “already done one large project based on embedded Linux” for an unnamed customer. “We've embarked on cross-training our service staff. With Linux development, [customers] can get going rapidly, but the last five percent to get a product finished is difficult — that's where we've been able to help them.”

“We have qualified our tools for, Red Hat, TimeSys, and MontaVista,” Murdoch added. “We're trained on those and are comfortable with those. We're ready to support customers using operating systems instead of — or in addition to — [our own].”

Time will tell

Wind River apparently believes it can offer Professional Services in the embedded Linux market while distancing itself somewhat from the image of actually being an embedded Linux distributor. How well this strategy will work remains to be seen.

“In my experience, partnering with competitors doesn't work for long,” comments founder and Editor-in-Chief Rick Lehrbaum. “Eventually, competitive and sales issues put too much pressure on the need to offer customers a complete solution. At some point, you just can't risk having your customer be dependent on one of your competitors for an embedded Linux distribution.”

“Our current aim is to start growing again,” emphasized Murdoch. “Down the line, who knows what we'll do. The customers will guide us on other steps.”

— by Henry Kingman, editor. Rick Lehrbaum, editor-in-chief, contributed to this report.

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