Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dr. D helps take over Wind River

This morning at the (impossible to find) Wind River offices on Scranton, Marco Thompson hosted the “Android VIP Roundtable III” with four expert panelists on the Google-sponsored open source platform.

As part of hosting the event, Russ Christensen of Wind River put in a plug for the company’s hardware and software design activities for mobile — including Android-based devices. It struck me how much Dr. D has helped transform Wind River.

Once upon a time, Wind River was an embedded tools and OS (VxWorks ) licensing company that aspired to be the Microsoft of the embedded world. They spent a lot of time predicting such an outcome — I remember one Embedded Systems Conference where the pitch was particularly strong — but the industry for years remained badly fragmented.

Now the industry is consolidating around a common platform, but it’s not VxWorks. Instead, it’s Linux, which has many other suppliers beyond Wind River. And the common toolset for the embedded world is based on Eclipse.

So with the proprietary licensing business shot, Wind River has found a new niche around being a solutions provider. The pitch today on Christensen’s slides emphasized time to market.

This was always the Dr. Design story. Founded in 1984 by Marco (UCSD ’79), their speciality was to solve seemingly impossible problems in an insanely short period of time (and charge accordingly).

In 1999, Wind River paid $400+ million to acquire solutions provider Integrated Systems, Inc. In 1996, ISI had paid about $17.5 millionto buy Dr. D.

So what once might have looked like a less-scalable, lower margin complementary business to Wind River’s platform sale has now become an integral part to their new business model based on integrated solutions that integrate an arbitrary combination of hardware and software, off-the-shelf and custom components. This is exactly what Dr. D did for 12 years before Marco cashed out.

The results are not exactly as dramatic as the NeXT takeover of Apple that ushered in the Jobs II era, but in this era of commoditized software platforms, it’s still a happy outcome as Wind River seems to have made the transition to fight another day.

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