Embedded Linux: With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Dan O'Dowd, Green Hills Software

May 07, 2008

Dan O'Dowd, Green Hills SoftwareMay 07, 2008

Wind River and MontaVista each say that they can tame the embedded Linux monster and make it work for customers. But can they? Trying to fix embedded Linux for eight years, MontaVista is reported to have lost over $60,000,000, going through five rounds of venture capital, three rounds of layoffs, and three CEOs in the last two years. Since jumping on the Linux bandwagon, Wind River has gone from profitability to losses, recently announcing a layoff of 7% of their staff.

So why are Wind River and MontaVista bashing embedded Linux? Each year, Embedded System Design magazine carries out a survey of embedded systems developers. Over a two year period from 2005 to 2007, the percentage of developers using embedded Linux and the percentage planning to use embedded Linux have both declined. And even more important, the percentage not interested in embedded Linux has nearly doubled.

According to ESD's analysis, most of those who are reasonable targets for embedded Linux (those with PC-like applications) have already adopted it. The rest have learned it is not appropriate and are moving on. See the article "Annual study uncovers the embedded market" (Richard Nass, for details of survey.

It seems clear what is happening: Wind River and MontaVista are trying to get the dwindling number of disenchanted embedded Linux users to pay them "big bucks" to escape the embedded Linux nightmare. They hope that if they can get enough customers signed up, they will finally get enough money to tame the beast.

But what happens if they cannot? There are indications that they may have exhausted the market. If Wind River fails to stem the tide, they will need to drop their support for embedded Linux to return to profitability. And if MontaVista doesn't show some sign of stemming their losses soon, their investors will pull the plug. When Wind River and MontaVista abandon embedded Linux, their customers will have to live the embedded Linux nightmare that Wind River and MontaVista are telling them--all too clearly--that they will have.

This embedded Linux bashing from embedded Linux's strongest proponents should give pause to those who are thinking through their embedded operating system strategy. If embedded Linux champions are saying that embedded Linux is terrible, why would anyone want to risk their products or their company on it?

Why would anyone use a product that its proponents say is awful? Would you buy a car from a salesman who admitted the car was a piece of junk just because he said he had a great service department? That's what embedded Linux's friends suggest that you do. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Dan O'Dowd is the founder and chief executive officer of Green Hills Software. Prior to Green Hills Software, O'Dowd managed compiler and operating systems development at National Semiconductor, where he designed the architecture for the NS32000 32-bit microprocessor. O'Dowd holds a bachelor of science in engineering from the California Institute of Technology.

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