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BSDi Acquired by Embedded Computing Firm Wind River

Today embedded computing company Wind River Systems, Inc. announced its acquisition of Berkeley Software Design, Inc. (BSDi), the retail home of FreeBSD, BSD/OS, and Slackware Linux. Once the purchase is complete later this month, BSDi will be renamed "iXsystems, inc."

The companies maintained that, for the most part, it would remain "business as usual" for their current product lines. Wind River characterized the acquisition as a chance to integrate UNIX-oriented embedded products into its existing line, and plans to continue manufacture of BSDi's BSD/OS-based Internet Server and its associated Developer Kit.

In addition, the company said it has no plans to disrupt or change current operations for FreeBSD. According to the company:

"Wind River will continue to support the efforts of FreeBSD open-source software, working closely with the open-source community of developers. Wind River will provide operational and technical support, marketing, and funding for FreeBSD, and will continue to distribute the software free of charge through ftp.FreeBSD.org (the world4s busiest FTP server) and as a shrink-wrap software product through retail outlets. Technical innovations in the commercial BSD/OS will continue to be used to advance the FreeBSD version, as well as develop new products for the FreeBSD Project."

At the same time, however, news of how the company plans to handle its distribution of Slackware was conspicuously absent, and none of several sources within the company were able to comment as this story was being prepared.

In terms of BSDi4s current management team, Wind River announced that Chairman of the Board Dr. Marshall Kirk McKusick, Vice President Open Source Technology & Chief Evangelist Jordan Hubbard, and Chief Technology Architect Michael Karels will join Wind River4s Platforms business unit.

General employees of BSDi will not fare quite so well, however, with approximately 50 of them losing their jobs to sale-related layoffs.

The move is, in some ways, representative of Wind River coming to terms with Open Source technologies in a manner reflective of its past concerns over the presence of Linux in the embedded space. Like many embedded computing companies, Wind River's public stance on Open Source software has been ambivalent at times, acknowledging both the current enthusiasm for Linux in the embedded space, but at the same time cautioning that developers and companies are not always eager to divulge source code for their highly specialized embedded applications.

The company has also felt pressure from embedded Linux firms eager to capitalize on that enthusiasm. Late last year, for instance, MontaVista announced a freely available toolkit designed specifically to assist in porting code from Wind River's proprietary VxWorks to embedded Linux development platforms.

In public debates on Open Source in the embedded space, Wind River has taken a friendly enough tone, pointing out that the company has a past history of licensing Open Source technology (specifically BSD's network stack).

The company draws the line at the GNU General Public License (GPL) as an acceptable presence in its own products. In a FAQ it released on the acquisition of BSDi, the company cited the GPL'd status of the Linux kernel as unacceptable because it doesn't allow companies to release proprietary, binary-only releases. Where embedded Linux companies have gotten around that in small part by providing proprietary modules over the top of a modified and open body of kernel code, Wind River maintains that too many embedded applications depend on kernel-level enhancements that would force it to give away competitive secrets.

In a statement, Tom St. Dennis, Wind River President and CEO said "We believe that BSD4s business-friendly license will allow our customers to take advantage of a widely tested and deployed infrastructure OS while protecting their intellectual property as they make modifications to the BSD source code or extend the functionality of the kernel. Offering BSD technology allows our customers to continue differentiating themselves in a very competitive marketplace."