PARK RIDGE, Ill. Embedded-software giant Wind River Systems Inc. this week attacked competition from the open-source Linux camp and opened the door to small-footprint design wins by acquiring the assets of two key software companies.
In a pair of moves that drew strong reactions from competitors, the Alameda, Calif., embedded-software market leader picked up Berkeley Software Design Inc., which develops the BSD open-source operating system, and Eonic Systems NV, a Belgian company whose DSP-tool expertise could propel Wind River into cell phones.
The moves are expected to solidify Wind River's already powerful position in the marketplace and expand its grasp across the range of embedded designs. "They are trying to create a horizontal pipeline of products that span the embedded spectrum," said Daya Nadamuni, senior analyst for Gartner Dataquest (San Jose, Calif.). "The fact that one product line in this acquisition is open source is just icing on the cake."
Berkeley Software Design (Colorado Springs, Colo.), which markets the BSD/OS and supports the open-source version, FreeBSD, is seen by Wind River as a significant asset in helping it deal with the Linux threat. And Eonic Systems (Aarschot, Belgium), which makes programming tools for digital signal processor applications, could help Wind River gain a stronger foothold in the growing cell phone market.
While the two moves are believed to be equally important to Wind River, acquiring Berkeley Design (BSD) has drawn the most attention. The reason: The deal signals a long-awaited move by Wind River to deal with the open-source competition posed by Linux.
BSD, a Unix-like operating system developed two decades ago at the University of California at Berkeley, has spawned several strains, including FreeBSD, NetBSD and OpenBSD. The open nature of these operating systems has led to their relatively wide distribution, eventually resulting in FreeBSD's use by Yahoo!, Amazon.com, Geocitie s and others.
Wind River executives said they preferred the open-source nature of FreeBSD to Linux, mainly because BSD is not covered by the General Public License (GPL) that covers Linux operating systems. Many users of BSD reportedly shy away from the GPL because it obligates them to divulge large chunks of their altered source code to anyone who asks for it.
"Who's going to make changes to their embedded applications if they have to give away their source code?" asked John Fogelin, vice president and general manager of Wind River's Platforms Business Unit.
In acquiring BSD's software, Wind River gained the company's support infrastructure for FreeBSD, as well as its proprietary operating system, BSD/OS, which is derived from FreeBSD. Wind River said it will employ a standard business model for the BSD/OS but will allow FreeBSD to remain free and open. Wind River said that the two operating systems are critical to its future plans, especially in enabling embedded applications to interoperate w ith mission-critical Unix-based applications running on the Internet.
Shortly after the announcement, Wind River fended off concerns from FreeBSD users, some of whom believed the software giant would kill off the OS or try to charge for its use. "The community owns FreeBSD," Fogelin responded. "And we are enabling that community by supporting them, promoting them and giving them the resources they need to carry their work forward. We are absolutely not looking to change their business model in any way."
To drive home the company's commitment to FreeBSD's openness, a spokesman noted that Wind River has added Jordan Hubbard, a liaison to the FreeBSD community, to its employment rolls.
Still, competitors wondered about Wind River's motives for acquiring Berkeley Design. They pointed out that FreeBSD is not particularly well-suited for embedded applications, and that BSD/OS is not an open-source product. "FreeBSD isn't embeddable and BSD isn't making much money off it," said Perry Metzger, chief exe cutive officer of Wasabi Systems Inc. (New York), which markets NetBSD. "But Wind River is playing it up enormously as if it's a big part of the deal."
Analysts said that the key for Wind River may lie not in its link to FreeBSD, but in its existing middleware stacks. "They feel that if they have the BSD product on one end and VxWorks [Wind River's real-time operating system] on the other, they can take their middleware stacks from the VxWorks platform and extend them across BSD, as well," said Nadamuni.
Despite the interest from the development community about the open-source angle, analysts said that the Eonic acquisition is of equal importance, especially in the telecommunications arena. Eonic, which makes a DSP integrated development environment known as Virtuoso, serves wireless and aerospace companies such as Boeing, Alcatel and Lockheed Martin, among others.
Wind River was reportedly drawn to the acquisition because the Virtuoso technology could enhance its offerings for memory-constrained devices. Virtuoso, the company said, is known for having a very small-footprint kernel, along with an advanced virtual-storage portal synchronization and messaging system.
Wind River said the key to Virtuoso's technology may be its ability to appeal to developers of multicore devices. Virtuoso, the company said, would allow engineers to more easily build embedded devices that contain RISC, DSP and FPGA building blocks. Such combinations are growing more commonplace in wireless products, analysts said.
"Part of the reason they are doing this is because of the wireless crunch," said Nadamuni of Dataquest. "For those applications, it may make more sense for developers to offload some of the DSP functions to an operating system that is optimized for DSPs."
Wind River's move toward DSPs may be particularly significant over the next several years, analysts said. According to surveys done by Forward Concepts Inc. (Tempe, Ariz.), DSP technology is expected to grow 10 percent in 20 01, outpacing the integrated-circuit market, which is expected to grow 5 percent.
The Virtuoso technology, which will be renamed by Wind River, is expected to compete with similar products from Texas Instruments and Nuova.