BIOS merger targets billions of devices

Jul 24, 2008

Long-time PC BIOS leader Phoenix Technologies is acquiring embedded BIOS specialist General Software. The companies expect the acquisition to help Phoenix tap into a market consisting of billions of mobile and embedded devices.

Privately held General Software has targeted the embedded software market since its formation in 1989, first with an “embedded DOS” operating system, and later with a “highly configurable and feature-rich” embedded-oriented BIOS software. The company says its current BIOS product offers unique capabilities of provisioning, remote monitoring, power management, fast boot, and customized security, among other key features. General Software’s newest BIOS products target applications such as embedded systems, UMPCs, servers, telecom/datacom devices, and targeted PCs.

For its part, Phoenix Technologies claims to be the global market share leader in “core system software” (CSS), with its products going into over 125 million newly minted computers per year. In recent years, Phoenix has expanded its product family beyond simple PC BIOS, with offerings such as specialized pre-boot firmware for security, remote management, diagnostics, system image storage/recovery, and more. The company’s main competitors in the PC BIOS and pre-boot firmware market include AMI and Insyde.

Phoenix acquired Award Software, one of its largest competitors in the BIOS business, in September of 1998. Over the past several years, Phoenix has struggled to turn a profit. In first three quarters of its fiscal 2008 year, for example, revenue was $17.4, $17.1, and $19.3 million, with GAAP net income of +2.5, -1.4, and -2.8 million dollars, respectively. The company reported its Q3-08 fiscal quarter results on July 22nd.

Commenting on the acquisition of his company, General Software founder and chairman Steve Jones said, “We have been waiting for the opportunity to extend the reach of our solutions to the RISC space and especially to ARM, which is built into billions of devices.”

Notwithstanding Jones’s optimism, those billions of RISC-powered gadgets generally spurn PC-style BIOS firmware in favor of custom bootstrap loader code in combination with specialized real-time operating systems (RTOSes) such as Wind River’s VxWorks, Microsoft’s Windows CE, and numerous implementations of embedded Linux.



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