Wind River adds embedded Linux support

The largest maker of software for devices outside the PC realm has recognised the growing importance of embedded Linux

Wind River Systems, the largest provider of software for embedded devices, has added its first official support for the Linux operating system, underscoring the momentum of Linux in devices outside the PC realm.

The move is a setback for Microsoft -- one of the major competitors for Linux in the embedded market -- and its Windows CE operating system.

Wind River is the leader in software, services and developer tools for embedded hardware, a huge category that includes aerospace and defence, automotive, consumer devices such as MP3 players or PDAs, industrial hardware and network infrastructure. On Thursday, the company said it would add Linux support to its widely-used embedded developer tools, beginning with Visionprobe II.

The tool will be immediately available with Linux support for the IBM PowerPC 405 family of embedded processors, used in routers, switches and other devices. Other IBM and Motorola PowerPC chips will be supported by the end of this quarter, and support for MIPS processors is further down the line.

The market for embedded software is potentially huge, but device developers have traditionally created their own software in-house. That is beginning to change as Linux, Windows CE and other operating systems begin to win converts, and home-grown development declines.

Linux has made the most progress into the embedded world so far, being widely used in the Japanese consumer electronics industry for cutting-edge devices. For example, Motorola has said it will base most of its mobile-phone handsets on Linux.

So far, however, good Linux developer tools for embedded systems are hard to come across. An Evans Data Corp (EDC) study from March found that less than 25 percent of developers rated their embedded Linux toolkits "good" or "excellent", while more than 60 percent said the tools were "not very good" or "adequate".

Wind River said it is looking to take advantage of this market opportunity with Linux support. "Although our customers can use the (developer) products with any technology, we like to focus additional functionality on the biggest operating systems," said Wind River senior vice president Dave Fraser in a statement. "Linux is now very popular in embedded, but it is quite immature and challenging in the area of tools."