Thinking Tech

Intel-Wind River the biggest tech deal of the month

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Imagine being able to program your coffee maker, your toaster, and your microwave to have breakfast ready for you when you wake up in the morning. Imagine being able to control the lights in your bedroom from a hotel room, or have a security system tied-in to your iPhone.

July was a good month for technology mergers, driven mainly by the cash hordes of such companies as Microsoft, Google, IBM and Apple.

So which was the best deal? IBM's purchase of SPSS? The Oracle acquisition of Sun? Agilent buying Varian? Maybe Amazon's purchase of Zappos, the online shoe retailer?

None of the above. In terms of the future of technology, in terms of your own life with technology, the most important deal by far was Intel's purchase of Wind River.

Why? Wind River.

Wind River is, or was, the leading provider of operating systems for embedded devices. Embedded devices are a big business. Your microwave's PC is an embedded device. A remote control is an embedded device. Most cell phones use embedded operating systems.

Basically, everything an embedded device does is programmed in the hardware. It is what it is.

Wind River is best known for VxWorks, the leading Real Time Operating System, or RTOS. In the last few years the company has been working on its own version of Linux, one designed for embedded devices.

There's a big difference between an RTOS and a big boy operating system like Linux. An RTOS, as I said, is what it is. A Linux can get connected. A device with Linux can become more than it started out to be.

This combination of embedded hardware and software has long been a weakness for Intel. As the market for embedded devices has grown, and as the OEMs have centered in Taiwan with manufacturing in China, Intel was left behind.

That's all over now. Intel not only owns the technology these guys depend on, it has all those relationships as well. These are the same companies Intel has been trying to win support for in cellular phones, where it has generally been an amazing failure.

How bad is it for Intel in cellular? At CompuTex in Taiwan this year, the Moblin system Intel has been pushing was stuck presenting on the fourth day of the show, at a remote location, alongside the head of the Linux Foundation. This was partly because Intel gave Moblin to the Linux folks, but the point is it was going nowhere under Intel.

Intel's problem in this market was always that it sold chips, while OEMs wanted to buy solutions. A solution includes software. With Wind River, Intel can now offer that. Wind River also had a lot of customers looking to move up, going from ordinary TV remotes, say, to universal remotes they could sell under their own brand names.

Intel can help with that.

What the Wind River deal should do is give Taiwanese OEMs an easier path to the U.S. market, and Intel a better shot at selling deals into that market. Long-time Wind River customers are now its customers, not just on the Asia side, but on the American side as well.

Not only does this mean more money flowing around, it also means Intel will learn a lot of things it did not know before. Like how these deals get done, how to get inside these deals, and how to compete in the embedded market.

The result, for you, should be even more capable embedded solutions than you had before, perhaps even solutions that work with other products, like Intel-based PCs. And if your remotes and appliances start talking to one another, that's going to provide networking opportunities I think you'll enjoy.

Imagine being able to program your coffee maker, your toaster, and your microwave to have breakfast ready for you when you wake up in the morning. Imagine being able to control the lights in your bedroom from a hotel room, or have a security system tied-in to your iPhone.

All these things, and more, become possible now that Intel has finally captured the center of the embedded market. It's going to be pretty exciting, I think. Good for you, good for Intel. Probably pretty good for Wind River as well.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure