Orlando, Fla. Ken Klein, who took over as chief executive officer of Wind River Systems Inc. 18 months ago, kicked off the company's users' conference here last month in slightly contrarian fashion. The company that rode the VxWorks operating system for its first two decades is now "OS-agnostic," Klein said, declaring that "the OS is not our core business."
Wind River has gone well beyond a U-turn on Linux, which earlier management publicly opposed. This year, its engineers have taken the lead in adapting the open-source Eclipse platform which started within IBM as an IT-centric user interface to the needs of embedded-software developers.
Rather than using VxWorks as its leading punch, Wind River has adopted a platform strategy packaging the appropriate OS, middleware and run-time tools tailored to major industry segments, said chief marketing officer John Bruggeman. As part of that strategy, the Alameda, Calif., company has courted smaller software vendors as partners companies that got mostly lip service from Wind River until recently.
Steering a tanker
For example, Wind River and Express Logic Corp. have started cooperating, going on joint sales calls to pitch Express Logic's compact ThreadX operating system to customers that need a small-footprint, royalty-free OS in combination with support tools and service from Wind River.
Such partnerships "would have been unthinkable" under the previous Wind River management, said John Carbone, vice president of marketing at Express Logic (San Diego). "The new team took a tanker that was headed for the rocks and steered it back into the middle of the river. That's hard to do," he said.
Beset by an industry downturn and its own mistakes, Wind River watched as its annual revenues dropped by more than half after peaking at $438 million in 2001. About 1,000 people nearly half the work force were laid off during the downturn, said chief technology officer Tomas Evensen, who joined Wind River as part of its 2000 acquisition of Integrated Systems Inc.
"The layoffs were very hard on morale. The uptick in engineering morale actually started earlier [than the changes in management]," Evensen said. "We got rid of the separate business units and created one engineering unit under Scot [Morrison, vice president of engineering]. From an engineering point of view, that was the start of the turnaround."
Starting three years ago, Wind River engineers twice evaluated the Eclipse platform, trying to figure out if the IT-centric technology could meet the needs of the embedded-software community. Development of software for enterprise applications is done in synchronous fashion. Engineers targeting a military system or an automobile often have connections across systems, and software developers must update a register window or a memory window asynchronously.
"The interface must be more messaging based, and for us it becomes a networking problem to send all of these messages back and forth," Evensen said. "So when we set out to develop Workbench, we had to create this asynchronous development system and then bring that knowledge back to the Eclipse community."
Wind River engineers are leading an open-source effort within the Eclipse Foundation aimed at device software development platforms. The group's DSDP committee late last month posted its goals and kicked off a newsgroup at the foundation's Web site (www.eclipse.org).
One advantage of Eclipse, Evensen said, is that partner companies can quickly learn how to develop plug-ins by going to the Eclipse documentation, rather than relying on Wind River engineers to shepherd them through the process. For Wind River, Eclipse's modularity made it possible to tailor the Workbench tools to the needs of the customer. While the Tornado integrated development environment was aimed at the users of VxWorks, Workbench can be adapted to Linux, VxWorks or any other operating system.
"One very nice thing about Eclipse is that you can plug in something that will come into the view without having to recompile," Evensen said. "We can have one product aimed more at the application developers and another one for engineers doing complex hardware bring-up, priced for that segment."
CEO Klein worked as a ship-based radar engineer at Hughes Aircraft, and then at Daisy Systems and Daisy-Cadnetix, before spending 14 years in the enterprise software space at Mercury Interactive Corp. (Mountain View, Calif.). He said he wants to apply revenue opportunity lessons he learned in the enterprise software world, including remote diagnostics and debug, to Wind River.
In the enterprise IT sector, Klein said, services such as fault management and remote diagnostics have created a $14 billion industry, with companies such as Tivoli, BMC, NetIO and others forming around the opportunity. Klein said that in the embedded world, "there is a complete vacuum of those kinds of devices."
To that end, Wind River will develop technology obtained from the recent purchase of the ScopeTools Division of Real-Time Innovations Inc. "It is a difficult technical challenge to remotely debug running systems that you can't stop for example, a basestation," CTO Evensen said. "The old model of setting a breakpoint and stepping through doesn't work. The ScopeTools help to debug without stopping the target."
Klein said Wind River's revenue is now growing at a 30 percent clip, more than double the industry's overall growth rate. Wind River has embraced a subscription model for selling its tools, betting that it can convince the top engineering managers at large companies to use its software throughout their engineering teams, rather than buying Wind River tools on a project-by-project basis. And Klein wants customers to take advantage of Wind River "service teams" to supplement the customer's in-house software engineers.
In a move that speaks volumes about its newfound confidence, the 23-year-old company is trying to change the very language used to describe its industry segment. Instead of "embedded software development," Wind River prefers "device software optimization."
The DSO moniker is part of an effort to distinguish between the "old" model, in which a systems company purchases various software tools and then stitches them together in-house, and a new one in which Wind River serves as a "strategic development partner" for systems companies. Klein said the engineering teams at Wind River's customers need to concentrate on developing the applications code a challenge that is doubling in size this year and next and partner with Wind River for the tools needed for "software optimization."
"We want to join an ecosystem and provide services on the fly," said Bruggeman, the chief marketing officer. "The question is: How do you price for software in a hardware-centric world? The software model is different than the hardware model."
Daya Nadamuni, a senior analyst at Gartner Dataquest (San Jose, Calif.), said the Wind River managers have their work cut out for them. Regaining trust within the software development community takes time, and previous management "cost the company a lot of good will" with its public opposition to Linux, she said.
"I can't blame [Wind River co-founder] Jerry Fiddler, but he and the CEOs there didn't see the magnitude of the change that Linux brought to the industry," Nadamuni said. At the same time, she added, "the company is still very strong technically."
Competition in the approximately billion-dollar DSO industry is intense, with Green Hills Software Inc. (Santa Barbara, Calif.) attacking the aerospace segment and Microsoft Corp. growing fast in the consumer market.
"In the end, they will be judged by where the dollars are going. That is how people in this industry cast their votes," Nadamuni said.
Wind River's fiscal 2006 got off to a good start. On May 25 it reported a quarterly revenue increase of 17 percent, compared with the first fiscal-2005 quarter. Sales rose to $61.8 million and the company earned a $1.8 million profit, compared with a loss of $3.8 million a year ago.