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Intel Updates Wind River VxWorks OS

Among the most widely deployed embedded operating systems on the planet is Wind River's VxWorks real-time OS. This week, Intel's (NASDAQ: INTC) Wind River division is updating VxWorks to version 6.8, providing new multi-core and 4G wireless capabilities.

The new VxWorks release comes as the competitive market for embedded operating systems is changing, with the acquisition of rival MontaVista software by chip maker Cavium. MontaVista develops an embedded Linux operating system release that Wind River competes against, with both VxWorks and Wind River's own embedded Linux release.

VxWorks is widely deployed and used. Marc Brown, vice president of marketing and strategy of VxWorks at Wind River, noted that Wind River estimates that there are some 500 million VxWorks-based devices in use.

With VxWorks 6.8, a key new feature is the addition of 4G LTE technology.

"VxWorks is widely used in wireless equipment today -– 2G, 3G, and 4G -- along with many CPE wireless devices," Brown told InternetNews.com. "VxWorks 6.8 brings further capabilities for LTE, a significant growth area. VxWorks is already heavily used in WiMAX applications."

The addition of LTE capabilities is also something that rival MontaVista included in a recent Carrier Grade Edition of its Linux operating system.

VxWorks 6.8 also includes developer tool productivity enhancements as well as new workflow and debugging capabilities.

"One key aspect is being able to debug multicore-based devices that are running multiple OSes per processor core, allowing a developer to debug at the system level, core OS level, or task level," Brown said. "These are additions to what was released in VxWorks 6.7."

Users of VxWorks 6.7 shouldn't have too difficult a time upgrading to the new VxWorks 6.8, according to Brown. He explained that since there is a high degree of portability, typical migration only involves installation and re-compilation of the application.

"If the application wants to leverage new features/capabilities, these are well documented in the standard user manuals," Brown said.

Brown said that given the nature of embedded projects, organizations will typically update OS versions when switching hardware.

Embedded Linux a competitor?

The new VxWorks 6.8 is not necessarily intended to be a competitor to embedded Linux. Wind River has claimed a leadership position in embedded Linux with a 30 percent share of the total market, according to a 2009 report.

"VxWorks and Wind River Linux are complementary offers, allowing Wind River to serve customers who need Linux or VxWorks," Brown said. "These can be used separately, and there certainly are vertical sub-markets better suited by one or the other. In addition, we can offer them together as a single solution."

The move toward multicore processors is one of the primary drivers for a joint Linux/VxWorks type of deployment, according to Brown. In his view, as multicore-based equipment continues to evolve, Wind River sees increasing opportunities in which customers need to deploy Linux on one or many cores along with VxWorks on other cores to satisfy the device needs. That could happen in networking equipment where Linux is installed for the control plane and VxWorks is installed for the data plane.

The move to multicore chips is being led by Wind River's parent company Intel, among other chip vendors like AMD (NYSE: AMD). Wind River was acquired last June by Intel for $884 million. Brown said that since the Intel acquisition, Wind River's focus and strategy haven't changed.