Microsoft has never been shy about being acquisitive, and today it announced it’s buying Express Logic, a San Diego company that has developed a real-time operating system (RTOS) aimed at controlling the growing number of IoT devices in the world.
The companies did not share the purchase price.
Express Logic is not some wide-eyed, pie-in-the-sky startup. It has been around for 23 years, building (in its own words) “industrial-grade RTOS and middleware software solutions for embedded and IoT developers.” The company boasts some 6.2 billion (yes, billion) devices running its systems. That number did not escape Sam George, director of Azure IoT at Microsoft, but as he wrote in a blog post announcing the deal, there is a reason for this popularity.
“This widespread popularity is driven by demand for technology to support resource constrained environments, especially those that require safety and security,” George wrote.
Holger Mueller, an analyst with Constellation Research, says that market share also gives Microsoft instant platform credibility. “This is a key acquisition for Microsoft: on the strategy side Microsoft is showing it is serious with investing heavily into IoT, and on the product side it’s a key step to get into the operating system code of the popular RTOS,” Mueller told TechCrunch.
The beauty of Express Logic’s approach is that it can work in low-power and low-resource environments and offers a proven solution for a range or products. “Manufacturers building products across a range of categories — from low-capacity sensors like lightbulbs and temperature gauges to air conditioners, medical devices and network appliances — leverage the size, safety and security benefits of Express Logic solutions to achieve faster time to market,” George wrote.
Writing in a blog post to his customers announcing the deal, Express Logic CEO William E. Lamie, expressed optimism that the company can grow even further as part of the Microsoft family. “Effective immediately, our ThreadX RTOS and supporting software technology, as well as our talented engineering staff join Microsoft. This complements Microsoft’s existing premier security offering in the microcontroller space,” he wrote.
Microsoft is getting an established company with a proven product that can help it scale its Azure IoT business. The acquisition is part of a $ 5 billion investment in IoT the company announced last April that includes a number of Azure pieces, such as Azure Sphere, Azure Digital Twins, Azure IoT Edge, Azure Maps and Azure IoT Central.
“With this acquisition, we will unlock access to billions of new connected endpoints, grow the number of devices that can seamlessly connect to Azure and enable new intelligent capabilities. Express Logic’s ThreadX RTOS joins Microsoft’s growing support for IoT devices and is complementary with Azure Sphere, our premier security offering in the microcontroller space,” George wrote.
Facebook is today launching a partner program for its Express Wi-Fi initiative, which helps bring higher-speed connections to developing markets, including India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania. The program itself involves having local business owners install Wi-Fi hotspots, where internet service is provided by local ISPs, mobile network operators, and others that Facebook has partnered with. Now, Facebook is launching a new partner program that will allow access point manufacturers to build devices compatible with Express Wi-Fi.
Facebook first began testing Express Wi-Fi three years ago, and has since expanded it to the five above countries and 10 partners. The idea behind the project is to create an entrepreneurial grassroots base for the its Wi-Fi service – that is, the operators and ISPs would be working with local entrepreneurs who want to resell internet access in their own communities. The partners set the prices, but Facebook provides the software.
The company has tried to address the needs of developing markets before, via its zero-rating program Free Basics. But this program was criticized over net neutrality concerns, as it only provided access to specific websites – like Facebook, of course – to the developing markets. India eventually banned that program in 2016, as a result.
Express Wi-Fi, on the other hand, offers full, unrestricted access to the web, not a selection of pre-approved sites and services. It’s one of Facebook’s many connectivity initiatives today, along with others like OpenCellular, rural access programs, drones, and other infrastructure projects.
The new partner program for Express Wi-Fi, announced today, was built to address specific issues Facebook and its partners faced in the field, the company now explains. It says it has been working with the manufacturers to build new access points that better detect registration pages and more accurately count the amount of Wi-Fi data consumed.
This will allow the Wi-Fi service providers to sell prepaid access as well as different traffic classes – like offering some services or content for free, while charging for others. Presumably, this would be another avenue of making Facebook free to developing markets down the road.
Facebook says having hardware manufacturers on board will help its operator partners more easily set up and manage their Express Wi-Fi hotspots.
Weak and expensive connectivity is a big barrier to Facebook adoption in developing markets, especially as user growth in developed regions is stalling – or, even decreasing at times. In July, Facebook reported no user growth in the U.S. and Canada, and a loss of European users it attribute to GDPR requirements. Developing regions, however, are still coming online and could bring Facebook a whole host of new users, if people can get connected.