by Lindsey Vereen|
How many times have you heard that there's going to be a shakeout in the industry and that this year a lot of companies will fall by
Probably nearly as many times as you've heard that this is the year that [insert your favorite technology here] is going to take off. Technologies do ignite (although it often seems to take forever), but shakeouts seldom occur in dynamic, growing market sectors. Interestingly enough, when a technology does take off, and products begin to proliferate, that's when rumors start circulating that a shakeout is imminent.
In the late 1960s, pundits claimed that more semiconductor companies
existed than could possibly survive, and consolidation was on its way. Seems that didn't actually happen. Although names and logos have changed, and the market has gone through a more than a few perturbations, the number of semiconductor companies has not decreased. In fact, there are more semiconductor companies now than ever before.
Don't think that this observation ignores the mergers and acquisitions that entertain us regularly. They just don't seem to thin out the population. Startups always seem to
be waiting in the wings to take their place.
Now a big shakeout is being predicted for real-time operating systems. I can't tell you the exact number of companies that produce commercial RTOSes, kernels, and executives, but it's up into three figures. Unlike the semiconductor industry, however, the revenues for this sector do not run to the billions of dollars. But embedded systems represent such a broad category and include such a panoply of components and technologies that they are not easily served
by one set of development tools. This is a factor which mitigates their vulnerability.
The fact that proprietary RTOSes are still so widespread is a sign that the industry is not coalescing around one commercial solution. Most of the RTOS vendors are relatively small operations, with a few in the medium-sized range. Microsoft, the only truly gargantuan contender, has been showing an awful lot of interest in the market recently. However, Microsoft will at best bite off only a corner of the pie because of
the inherent diversity of the market and the nature of Microsoft's solution (i.e., large, non-deterministic, tethered by licensing fees).
The diversity of the market alone will keep many RTOS companies going. Moreover, as the embedded products grow more complex and highly integrated, and market windows continue to shrink, opportunities for new tools abound. Instead of shakeouts, what you're likely to see are shifts in product offerings to meet changing needs. Just as a semiconductor company may shift
its focus from DRAMs to microprocessors, RTOS companies are likely to come up with ingenious new tools geared to help customers get to market sooner. Jack Ganssle says it best in the lead story this month: "The art of software creation remains in flux."