Comms chips

Life After Wind River

12:25 PM -- When Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) agreed to buy Wind River Systems Inc. earlier this year, it brought up an interesting situation. Wind River sold software that could run on a wide variety of chips, making the company a big deal in the embedded systems industry. Under Intel's wing, what are the odds Wind River will still be so universal? (See Intel Tries the Comms Market, Again.)

That's got systems designers wondering where they'll get the software to run on their microprocessors. The topic came up during a panel at the Linley Tech Processor Conference, a two-day affair put on this week by The Linley Group .

It's not just Wind River. On a smaller scale, panelists also cited the acquisition of embedded-software startup LVL7 by Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM). (See Broadcom Buys LVL7.)

Embedded-software vendors aren't gone -- MontaVista Software Inc. and QNX Software Systems come to mind. But there's a concern that it's getting harder to find third-party software that supports multiple processor types, and that's got engineers worried that they won't be able to switch processor vendors easily.

To preserve freedom of choice, some vendors have been writing their own software. "If we take software, we tie ourselves to that particular vendor," said Alex Bachmutsky, chief architect with Nokia Networks .

But the increasing complexity of processors makes that difficult, according to John Gmuender, VP of Engineering at SonicWall Inc. (Nasdaq: SNWL).

"The unfortunate reality is going to be: Use the software from the vendor," Gmuender said. "In my opinion, it's less cost to switch [processors] than to develop your own IP [intellectual property, meaning, the software code]. The registers are always changing. There's always something going on on the chip.

"Given that state, I would like for the vendor of chips to produce the best" software offerings possible, he said. He'd like to see support for many operating systems, plentiful software stacks, and lots of readily available software development kits.

That might be the smart choice, but big vendors like to create vendor lock-in. Whether that situation sticks might depend on how annoyed embedded systems engineers are with it.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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