What's in a name? Some company names are better than others

Ever think about changing your name? Seriously, if you had a choice, would it be the one your parents gave you or would you prefer to pick your own when you are at the height of your powers and use the name that best represents who you are and/or what you do? Would your friends still talk to you if you insist on being called Teddy instead of Johnny? And what if 15 years later you decide to switch back to your given name? Would you still be the same Johnny?

Wives have been changing their surnames for centuries for marriage or at least hyphenating it with that of their spouse so they can maintain their personal “brand.” Then if it doesn’t work out they revert back to their maiden name. Embedded computing companies aren’t really any different in that sense. When they merge with a larger or equal entity they change their names or become ABC Company, a subsidiary of such and such. Some change their name because their product line has expanded beyond what their name represents. Others change their names to take advantage of a hot trend or new technology like an open source operating system.

Which brings us to LynuxWorks in San Jose, CA. At the turn of this century they were known far and wide as Lynx Real-Time Systems, supplying real-time POSIX-based Real-Time Operating Systems (RTOSs) for military applications. Had quite a bit of success too, but they chucked their Lynx name to jump on the Linux bandwagon with a product called BlueCat Linux 1.0 as part of a suite of products called LynuxWorks, which obviously became the company name as well.

Others and myself thought they were crazy to abandon a strong brand in the steady, if niche, defense market. However, the promise of riches and Initial Product Offerings (IPOs) in much higher volume commercial markets led them and others to pursue profits from Linus Torvalds’ brainchild. In an article titled “Linus Torvalds gives the military a new secret weapon” that I wrote back in 2000 for Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, then Lynx Real-Time Systems CEO Inder Singh said Linux was “generating momentum due to the growing number of vendors porting their products to Linux,” and that “Linux has the potential to develop a large market capacity.” Singh later told me after the name change that other industry CEOs all thought that companies who pursued Linux would be on the fast track to IPOs.

Fast-forward about 15 years later to 2014. The hoped-for IPO never happened and no other RTOS vendors rebranded themselves with Linux. However, the POSIX-based RTOS supplier still retained a product line mostly branded with the Lynx name and a loyal military customer base. So company leaders brought back the Lynx brand and re-named themselves Lynx Software Technologies.

The potential growth with a move toward Linux was too hard to ignore back then, says Robert Day, Vice President of Marketing at Lynx Software Technology. “As a POSIX/UNIX company we had to do it for fear of being eaten alive and left behind by the competition. However, today the Linux branding does not always mesh with a defense market where our customers know us by our proprietary Lynx product lines.”

While the company name had become well known the last 15 years, it was time for a change, and as fortune would have it the Internet domain of www.lynx.com was still available, Day continues. “So the change, while a lot of work, could have been much more complicated if we had to rebrand our products to match the name.” Going with Lynx should also “help us in growing our cyber security business” as open source products are not often synonymous with cyber security, he adds.

“The military still uses Linux, but what the Department of Defense gets concerned about is how to protect the stuff that surrounds Linux, so we’ve seen a lot of our Lynx Secure designs running Linux on top of Lynx Secure to take away potential backdoors, etc.,” Day explains. “Now we separate using virtualization and the processor power is such that one board can have multiple OSs doing different jobs. Fifteen years ago you could only have one.”

It is difficult to make money solely as a Linux company in the military embedded system market, Day continues. Red Hat has success in the embedded industry because of the familiarity of their desktop Linux solutions, he adds.

I asked Day if it was intentional that they and MontaVista Software had Linux product names back then that rhymed with Red Hat – BlueCat and Hard Hat respectively. “I wasn’t here then, but I’m sure it’s unlikely,” he replied.

Hmmm, I think it quite likely was more than coincidental. Regardless, the change back to the Lynx brand was long overdue and still familiar. Nice play, Mr. Day.