industry news
Subscribe Now

Microsoft Buys Express Logic RTOS Company

Everything is a Component

“The future lies in designing… computers that users don’t realize are computers at all.” – Adam Osborne

The big fish eat the small fish. That’s a law of the jungle… er, aquarium.

Last week, software leviathan Microsoft gobbled up minnow Express Logic and its well-regarded RTOS, ThreadX. The financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed by either side, but my finger-in-the-breeze estimate is that the price was in the range of tens of millions of dollars, not hundreds of millions. Figure on eight figures for the San Diego RTOS company. Pretty good money for a royalty-free product.

The acquisition puts Microsoft squarely in the RTOS business, where it’s really had no business being before. Oh, sure, Redmond has produced embedded operating systems in the past – Windows CE, Windows Embedded, Windows Phone, etc. – but none were true, “hard real-time” operating systems. Now the company has a genuine RTOS to call its own.

The strategy here is clear enough to see. ThreadX is a gateway drug. By offering a (comparatively) low-end and inexpensive RTOS that connects to its massive Azure cloud infrastructure, Microsoft offers device makers a low-cost way to step into the wider and more expensive world of Azure. A royalty-free RTOS now; an expensive addiction to cloud services later.

It’s the same strategy that Google uses with Android, and Amazon with its AWS cloud services and FreeRTOS operating system. In each case, the small RTOS hooks into the larger cloud world where the real money is. For many IoT developers, some sort of cloud connectivity is important, and probably not where their expertise lies. Choosing an RTOS that greases that pathway makes perfect sense.

In Express Logic’s case, the connection to Azure wasn’t premeditated; that feature came much later. The company has been supplying ThreadX (along with dozens of optional modules) for decades, and the RTOS is widely used in everything from ink jet printers to NASA space probes. ThreadX has developed a reputation for solid performance, reliability, and royalty-free pricing. Cloud connectivity came later, but it’s a feature that caught Microsoft’s eye.

There’s no rule that says ThreadX users have to connect to Azure, or to any other cloud service. It’s still a functional real-time operating system, cloud or no cloud. But should you need cloud connectivity in your application, the right choice is clear.

What the acquisition highlights, apart from the obvious growth of cloud services, is that everything is becoming a component of something else. For 20+ years, Express Logic was a standalone company selling an RTOS and associated software. That was enough; enough to sustain the firm and enough to support its continual growth. Now, that company and its products are essentially a component, a mega-feature, inside the larger Azure product. For Microsoft, ThreadX is a means to an end; a shiny new lure to attract more and bigger fish into its pond.

For ThreadX users, not much will change. The staff and the San Diego office will remain as they are. Some Microsoft logos will undoubtedly be splashed across office walls, business cards, and user manuals. But the grubby technical work of developing and maintaining a successful real-time operating system will continue. Cloudless RTOS users can carry on apace. Cloud-connected developers, though, now have an ocean of new possibilities.

Leave a Reply

featured blogs
Jul 2, 2020
Using the bitwise operators in general, and employing them to perform masking operations in particular, can be extremely efficacious....
Jul 2, 2020
In June, we continued to upgrade several key pieces of content across the website, including more interactive product explorers on several pages and a homepage refresh. We also made a significant update to our product pages which allows logged-in users to see customer-specifi...
Jun 26, 2020
[From the last episode: We looked at the common machine-vision application and its primary .] We'€™ve seen that vision is a common AI these days, and we'€™ve also talked about the fact that our current spate of neural networks are not neuromorphic '€“ that is, they'€™...

Featured Video

Product Update: New DesignWare® IOs

Sponsored by Synopsys

Join Faisal Goriawalla for an update on Synopsys’ DesignWare GPIO and Specialty IO IP, including LVDS, I2C and I3C. The IO portfolio is silicon-proven across a range of foundries and process nodes, and is ready for your next SoC design.

Click here for more information about DesignWare Embedded Memories, Logic Libraries and Test Videos

Featured Paper

Cryptography: Fundamentals on the Modern Approach

Sponsored by Maxim Integrated

Learn about the fundamental concepts behind modern cryptography, including how symmetric and asymmetric keys work to achieve confidentiality, identification and authentication, integrity, and non-repudiation.

Click here to download the whitepaper

Featured Chalk Talk

TensorFlow to RTL with High-Level Synthesis

Sponsored by Cadence Design Systems

Bridging the gap from the AI and data science world to the RTL and hardware design world can be challenging. High-level synthesis (HLS) can provide a mechanism to get from AI frameworks like TensorFlow into synthesizable RTL, enabling the development of high-performance inference architectures. In this episode of Chalk Talk, Amelia Dalton chats with Dave Apte of Cadence Design Systems about doing AI design with HLS.

More information