Archive for October, 2006

SecureRF == SnakeOil?

Monday, October 16th, 2006 Michael Barr

I’m pleased to report that after years of reading Bruce Schneier, I am finally catching on. A few weeks back at the Embedded Systems Conference I attended a lunch for startup companies and venture capitalists. One of the presenting companies, SecureRF, claimed to have invented a security protocol for resource-constrained systems (such as RFID devices) that was (a) cheap mathematically and (b) even more secure than existing security techniques.

I was skeptical. I even thought of blogging here or e-mailing Bruce, but just never found the time. Encryption is mathematically hard for reasons I had learned in grad school. The company’s hand-waving about a new faster way of doing it was either bullsh*t or a major cryptology breakthrough we should all be reading about elsewhere.

It seems that Schneier has now caught wind of SecureRF. Here’s his blog post about the company, which labels the “breakthrough” nothing more than snake oil.

The End for Embedded Linux?

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006 Michael Barr

Last week at the Embedded Systems Conference in Boston, I moderated a panel discussion premised on the recent downward trending slope of Linux use in such systems. The panelists were Dr. Inder Singh (CEO, LynuxWorks), consultant Bill Gatliff, and John Carbone (VP of Marketing, Express Logic).

The graph to the left shows the operating systems use data. The source of this data is an annual (except 2003) subscriber survey by Embedded Systems Design (nee Embedded Systems Programming) magazine. To create this graph, I aggregated individual Linux distribution numbers, as well as combining data for pSOS and VxWorks under ISI acquirer Wind River Systems and Nucleus and VRTX under Accelerated acquirer Mentor. Similarly, all variants of DOS and Windows are lumped into Microsoft.

The question for the panel discussion revolved around the future trend: Will Linux’s share growth return or has it peaked? Whatever the answer, Linux is clearly very popular with embedded software developers. And other surveys support this finding.

An interesting subplot concerns Wind River Systems (Nasdaq:WIND). When Wind acquired competitor Integrated Systems (ISI), the combined market share of ISI’s pSOS and Wind’s VxWorks products (according to the data cited above) was more than 30%. Today the combined share for the same two products has fallen to about 10%. Over the same era the company’s stock price has fallen from a high of $60 to about $10. I see little reason to be optimistic about the company’s future and noted that they were not even present at the aforementioned industry gathering.

Is VxWorks dead? Is the company’s recurring market share around 10% simply due to past users at large companies continuing to use the product? How much has Linux contributed to the early demise of a previous market share leader? What do you think about the future of either operating system?