Posts Tagged ‘Linux’

13 March, 2017

My latest video blog is now available. I am talking about the relationship between the choice of operating system and the power consumption of an embedded system. You can see the video here or here:

Future video blogs will continue to look at topics of interest to embedded software developers. Suggestions for topics are always welcome via comment, email or social networking.

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6 February, 2017

Crystal ball gazing is, I feel, commonly a foolhardy activity. So often, I have heard so-called experts making complete idiots of themselves with their perspectives on a future that seemed unlikely at the time and turns out to be completely wrong in every detail. The world of embedded software is no different. Every few years a new fashionable technology is talked about everywhere, with predictions of the world changing completely, but it never quite happens.

I recently listened to an interesting podcast by a couple of well-known names in the business. A wide spread of opinions is part of life, and we should not always expect to agree with each other. I would like to suggest a different view … Read the rest of this entry »

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30 January, 2017

Not long ago, I was telling a friend about an iPad app that I had found useful. I commented that it was very reasonably priced at $10. They were very proud to tell me that they never pay for apps on their phone or tablet and only use free ones. I am always suspicious of the word “free”. I am a firm believer in the TANSTAAFL [There Ain’t No Such Things As A Free Lunch] principle – everything has a price, which may be monetary or something else.

I started pondering about how TANSTAAFL applies in the world of embedded software … Read the rest of this entry »

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12 October, 2015

A couple of weeks back I spent the entire weekend working with embedded systems. Having got to the attention my of my boss, I want to share some experiences I had at a recent event, at which I was volunteering. I learned about weather forecasting and spent a lot of time talking about programming a weather station … Read the rest of this entry »

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21 September, 2015

Embedded systems, much as we know them now, have been around since the early 1970s, when Intel released the first really practical microprocessor. In those days, the term “embedded systems” had not been coined – that did not come along for another 20 years. I wrote a book, which was published in 1986. There was a long list of possible titles, but the word “embedded” did not appear. It was finally called “Programming Dedicated Microprocessors”.

I have always had trouble explaining what I do professionally. People understand that I work with software, but are confused when I cannot necessarily help them make their PC work better. I have to explain what an embedded system is. The description I use is something like this: Inside almost all modern electronic devices are tiny computer chips called microprocessors. They run a fixed program to provide the required functionality to the device. That is an embedded system … Read the rest of this entry »

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15 June, 2015

Computers have had operating systems almost since the beginning – 60 years or so anyway. Embedded systems are a bit newer, of course, and it was the early 1980s when the first OS products appeared. Naturally, they were real time operating systems [RTOSes], as this matched the needs of the systems being built, as it often does today. The first commercially available RTOS was [probably] VRTX [pronounced “vertex”], which was developed by a company called Hunter & Ready, which became Ready Systems. They were acquired by Microtec Research, where I was working at the time. We got acquired by Mentor Graphics, where I still am today. VRTX was mothballed a few years ago and we moved on to selling the Nucleus RTOS after the acquisition of Accelerated Technology.

The RTOS market has always been interesting, with lots of options. There are around 200 products on the market, but still there are more companies trying to get in on the act … Read the rest of this entry »

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16 March, 2015

Software is an interesting kind of product. The most complex artifacts that humankind has ever made are items of software. Mechanical machines do not even come close. The most complex machine ever made, with about a million moving parts, was the Space Shuttle orbiter. The “moving parts” of software are bits of data; a program that includes a billion bits is not uncommon.

This complexity means that software development is eye-wateringly expensive. On the other hand, compared with other manufactured goods, the manufacturing, warehousing and distribution of software [and other electronic IP] is very cheap – maybe even free. This leads to some interesting results in the marketplace … Read the rest of this entry »

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10 February, 2015

Although I doubt that many engineers habitually view things this way, marketing folks like to divide the world into sectors. So, embedded systems might be in telecoms, medical, automotive, consumer, mil-aero, or industrial. There are probably others that I have not thought of. Each sector has its own characteristics and may or may not sound interesting to be involved in. Automotive is quite high profile just now, as the amount of electronics being packed into cars is increasing daily. Medical is important to us all and is also growing fast. Mobile telephony is a kind of merger between telecoms and consumer and has a certain appeal for many engineers.

But I have something of an affection for industrial systems … Read the rest of this entry »

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28 October, 2014

When I made the very first posting  to this blog, more than five years ago, I made the observation that the world of embedded software is very fashion conscious. I certainly do not mean that embedded software developers are renowned for their dress sense! I am talking about the way that a particular technology is really “hot” at any one time … Read the rest of this entry »

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13 October, 2014

I have been thinking about embedded operating systems and how a developer chooses from the options available. My thoughts partly come from the presentation that I made at the ARM conference in Munich last week. But I am also interested in ARM’s announcements in this area at ARM TechCon the week before.

It seems to me that although it used to be very black and white, the rules are changing and shades of gray become apparent … Read the rest of this entry »

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18 August, 2014

Although I enjoy writing articles and blogs and giving presentations – I am always hoping that I can impart some useful information and help engineers with their projects – the Q&A session after a presentation is often the moist interesting part. If I am doing a Web seminar, for example, I normally have a one hour slot; I try to talk for no more than 20-25 minutes, leaving plenty of time for Q&A. I find that so often it is the questions that trigger ideas for articles, blogs and further presentations. So, please keep them coming – comment here or email are always options.

I attended a recent Web seminar at which there were lots of interesting questions … Read the rest of this entry »

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21 July, 2014

Multicore continues to be a hot topic, as an ever-increasing number of embedded systems are designed with multiple CPUs – most commonly multiple cores on a chip. One of the challenges with understanding multicore is that the term actually covers a number of architectures and approaches to design. This is a topic that I have discussed somewhat before, but the increasing popularity of multicore and additional technology options make it a topic worth revisiting.

Figuring out the terminology is the first challenge … Read the rest of this entry »

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3 February, 2014

Complexity never, in itself, impresses me. I am impressed people’s ability to understand complex ideas and create complex machines, but a truly elegant and simple solution is always what gives me most pleasure. This might beg the question as to why I work in software – a business well known for creating incredibly complex things. I often ask myself the same question.

Systems where there are safety issues are a particular concern and a context, which is of interest to us all, is automotive systems … Read the rest of this entry »

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6 January, 2014

A majority of embedded devices nowadays are implemented using an operating system of some kind. This has not always been the case and need not be today. Historically, using an OS was less common mainly because the applications were less complex and CPUs less powerful.

Some thought is needed, at an early stage in a project, to determine which OS to use [or whether to use one at all] … Read the rest of this entry »

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2 December, 2013

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25 November, 2013

I recently discussed hypervisor technology and how it is being applied in embedded systems. This coincided with Mentor Embedded’s announcement of Mentor Embedded Hypervisor. I described what a hypervisor is and something about how it works, but I did not address applications for hypervisors – where they are used and why.

The initial announcement that I quoted, was focused on using hypervisors in automotive applications, but that is far from the whole story … Read the rest of this entry »

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30 September, 2013

On desktop computers, data that you are working on right now, in an open application, is most likely just stored in RAM. When you are finished, the information is saved to disk for more permanent storage. That is the way it is for word processing, spreadsheets etc.; databases are bit different. The idea of having volatile memory for temporary use – where a power failure can cost you a morning’s work – and disks for persistent data is widely accepted. The only thing that is changing is the use of flash memory to build solid state drives [SSDs] instead of rotating magnetic disks.

Embedded systems seem to have similar needs, but there are key differences … Read the rest of this entry »

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8 April, 2013

My colleague Richard Vlamynck [who has been a guest blogger here] and I were discussing tracing and debugging. Like me, he has been doing software for a few years. Hence, when we considered tracing and instrumenting code, he commented “It used to be easy to see what effect trace statements had on your program because, as you put more or less trace cards in your Fortran deck, you could visually see it growing or shrinking.”

We have come a long way from the use of punched cards, but tracing and debugging are still very much a matter of concern … Read the rest of this entry »

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8 January, 2013

I have always characterized the difference between desktop systems and embedded along the lines of “desktops are all the same; embedded systems are all different.” Although, if I think about platform based designs, this is less universal, but the distinction still mostly holds true.

Commonly, I would cite this difference when considering the needs of embedded software engineers with respect to development tools – compilers, debuggers etc. However, it gets interesting when you start looking at operating systems … Read the rest of this entry »

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12 November, 2012


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I often tell people that my job is that of a “professional enthusiast”. I get enthusiastic about products/technologies, then infect other people with that enthusiasm. Well, that is the idea anyway. I enjoy doing this most of all when I get to stand up in front of an audience, as a direct connection with real live human beings is the best way to communicate.

However, there are times when an alternative means of communication is very satisfactory and the usual vehicle for that nowadays is the Internet … Read the rest of this entry »

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16 April, 2012

I have historically been somewhat skeptical about open source software [OSS]. I am always wary of anything that is “free” and subscribe to the TANSTAAFL [“there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”] principle. It has taken me quite a few years to understand that open software is not free – it is just a different business model from the usual “we make it, you buy it” approach.

I am only now coming to grips with how the OSS model really works, why it is a good thing and how business can leverage it to mutual benefit … Read the rest of this entry »

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19 March, 2012

Next week, the Embedded Systems Conference will take place in San Jose, California. Except that it has a new name: ESC is now part of DESIGN West, which is an aggregate of a number of conferences. Personally, I do not care for the new name, as the word “design” has a very broad meaning way beyond electronic systems. But I guess I will get used to it.

The event will be interesting from many viewpoints. It is the largest trade show and conference in North America dedicated to embedded systems, so there is something for everyone. With indications that business is beginning to recover from the recent financial challenges, I am looking forward to seeing what innovations are being showcased this year.

Of course, Mentor Embedded will be there, but we are taking a different approach this year … Read the rest of this entry »

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