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By Jack Ganssle

RTOS Implosion


A recent survey released by Venture Development Corporation (, which is summarized at ( shows fundamental changes in the embedded RTOS market.

Betcha can’t guess who gets top billing as the number one RTOS vendor (in terms of dollars)? Remember, this is the embedded domain, far removed from desktops.

The winner is: Microsoft. No kidding. Windows has made far more inroads into the embedded market than most people realize. A lot of their wins are in PDAs, which, for reasons that baffle me, are generally included as part of the embedded domain.

The number two slot goes to Wind River, the company that has always, till this year, been the embedded industry’s largest player. Their sales have slipped from $438 million in 2000, to $351 million, to $249 million in 2002. Projections for the first quarter are even worse. Management blames that route on the collapse of the datacomm market.

Number 4? Why, another PDA vendor, of course - Palm.

QNX follows. Like Wind River, QNX sells to the traditional embedded market. Privately held, they don’t publish sales figures, but estimates ( place their 2001 numbers at $29 million, a small company by any measure.

ENEA follows in the sixth slot. They, too, sell mostly to the datacomm market. Like Wind River they’re suffering from the collapse of that business, with sales plummeting from about $88m in 2001 to $68m last year. Management sees no prospect for a 2003 upturn. Sigh.

7th position goes to Green Hills, which claims $45 million in 2001 sales. They boast of 20 years of continuous profits, an admirable and nearly unmatched record, though are silent about 2002 numbers.

Linux vendors LinuxWorks and MontaVista come next. The site estimates they sold about $21m and $14m respectively in 2001. MontaVista says their revenues doubled in 2002, though with an additional $28m in venture funding secured last year one wonders if profits are as elusive there as at Wind River, Enea, and others.

So of the top 9 RTOS vendors, only Wind River, QNX, Enea and Green Hills sell traditional embedded OSes. 2002 figures are available for only two of those; both are losing money like drunken sailors.

Three of the top four players work primarily in the PDA and phone segments. It’s reasonable to assume that these two markets are bigger than the rest of the embedded OS business combined.

Three of the nine sell desktop operating systems retargeted to firmware applications (Windows and Linux). Both have gone from non-starters in the embedded space not long ago to now, apparently, dominance.

Of the traditional OS vendors, only one (Wind River) sells more than a hundred million dollars of product per year.

It appears the old-fashioned embedded OS market is dying, being largely replaced by desktop OSes, with the bulk of applications in PDAs and cell phones. It further seems that Microsoft’s desktop hegemony now extends into embedded systems.

Though many vendors wait in anxious anticipation of a recovering datacomm market, I wonder if the old RTOS models will ever regain the market share they’ve lost. Does the future belong to Windows and Linux?