Wind River switches gears, launches Linux tools -

Wind River switches gears, launches Linux tools

PARK RIDGE, Ill. — Wind River Systems, Inc. (Alameda, Calif.) has executed an abrupt about-face, rolling out a set of development tools for use with the Linux operating system.

The embedded software giant surprised much of the embedded systems community by announcing it is extending its hardware debug tools to include support for the Linux platform. Known as visionProbe II, the tools give developers the ability to access virtual and physical address space, to track Linux virtual access, and to control physical peripherals and memory.

The announcement represented a dramatic turnabout for Wind River, which has emphatically argued that Linux is not a viable competitor in the embedded marketplace, mainly because of legal issues associated with the general public license.

“This marks a major shift in their strategic response toward Linux,” said Daya Nadamuni, a senior analyst for Gartner Dataquest (San Jose, Calif.) “It's obvious that they've come to the realization that, as a tools company, they can no longer afford to ignore Linux.”

Wind River claimed that the availability of such hardware debug tools for Linux filled a major void in the software tools market, but competitors in the embedded Linux market questioned the claim.

“We've worked with other hardware-assist vendors for the last four years,” noted Jim Ready, chief executive officer of MontaVista Software, Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.).

Wind River said the new Linux version of its product distinguishes itself, however, through the addition of kernel-level debugging, which includes scheduling, memory allocation and interrupt handling. It also offers an automated boot line, which provides the ability to run the kernel on the target without having a boot loader image installed.

“If your team hasn't completed the boot loader yet, you could actually go in and start playing with the processor and verifying that your hardware is correct,” said Steve Veneman, product marketing manager for Wind River's Development Tools Business Unit.

The company, which dominates the market for proprietary embedded operating systems, said its shift toward Linux was the result of popular demand.

“In listening to customers on the hardware bring-up side of the market, we've become aware of the fact that there are Linux users out there who are looking for support on bringing up their boards,” Veneman said.

Analysts said Wind River's turnabout is a shrewd business move, especially given the strong feelings held by many developers regarding domineering software makers.

“There's a large population of developers out there who may not be willing to pay for the kernel, but may be willing to pay for the tools,” Nadamuni said.

Still, Wind River's move was strikingly inconsistent with the company's public actions over the past three years. During 2001, Wind River acquired an open source Unix variant as a means of dealing with the “Linux threat,” but later stopped supporting the variant, saying that Linux was no longer a threat. Wind River's chairman and co-founder, Jerry Fiddler, referred to Linux in 2002 as “a phantasm,” which drew its support from developers who believed in an “illusion” that software can be free.

Wind River's former CEO Tom St. Dennis was also vehement in his criticism of Linux when SCO Group launched its Linux-related lawsuit against IBM earlier this year, saying that there were “fundamental IP issues surrounding free software.”

Competitors, having heard Wind River's criticism of Linux over the years, took the opportunity to shoot back following yesterday's announcement.

“Wind River for the past four years has very deliberately pummeled Linux, ridiculed it and questioned its validity,” said Ready of MontaVista. “They need to be held accountable for their actions and words.”

Given such emotions, Nadamuni noted that Wind River's methodology is all the better. “It's a much more sensible and practical approach for Wind River to come to Linux from the tools side of the business, rather than the kernel distribution side,” she said. “For the first time in three years, they're actually showing a good response to the ongoing trends in the market.”

Competitors predicted Wind River's latest shift signals a move toward the distribution of a Linux OS kernel.

“There's no doubt that Wind River is eventually going to have to do it,” Ready said. “The question is how they're going to manage their business between now and then.”

A Wind River spokeswoman, however, said that scenario is highly unlikely. “Right now, going into the Linux distribution business is not what Wind River wants to do,” she said. “That doesn't mean we're never going to do it. But everything we are doing with Linux today is a step-by-step process to see how our customers gauge it.”

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