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Archive for May, 2011

Embedded Software Developers Need Their Space

Friday, May 20th, 2011

By John Blyler

Improvements to several IDEs should make life a bit easier for time-constrained, globally separated, and processor-centric embedded-software developers.

At this year’s Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) event, software-development environments took center stage for both a prominent electronic-design-automation (EDA) tool and an integrated-circuit (IC) hardware company. In fact, the EDA-systems tool vendor, Mentor Graphics, won an award for its efforts to improve integrated development environments (IDEs) for embedded designers.

During ESC 2011, VDC Research Group, Inc. (VDC) gave the annual best-in-show “Embeddy” software award to Mentor Graphics’ Embedded Sourcery System Analyzer. The Embeddy is given to the company that’s announcing the most cutting-edge product or service for embedded-software developers and system engineers.

According to Mentor, the System Analyzer tool is designed to help embedded-software developers “visualize and analyze system data to identify and debug or decode problem areas easily and improve design performance.” System Analyzer is part of the Embedded Sourcery Codebench suite, an IDE based upon the open-source GNU tool chain. The IDE supports the embedded development of specific processors including NetLogic Microsystems’ XLP multicore processor, Freescale’s Kinetis, and Xilinx’s Zynq.

The traditional approach to debugging software code relies on breakpoints. They’re used to set aside troublesome code blocks and printf() statements in order to examine the data stored up to the breakpoints. System Analyzer improves this process by collecting trace and profile data from a variety of sources within the system. This information is plotted against a timeline as well as in relationship to other system activity. As a result, embedded developers should be able to debug code problems with greater ease and efficiency.

Although Microchip didn’t win an award at ESC for improving its software-development environment, the company was given the 2010 EDN Innovation Award for its human-machine-interface technology—specifically, the mTouch Metal-Over-Capacitive touch-sensing technology.

The company’s open-source MPLAB X IDE improvements are noteworthy because of the addition of several features including the following:

  • Team-collaboration tools for bug tracking and source-code control
  • Support for multiple, simultaneous compiler versions
  • Code completion and context menus via advanced editor


MPLAB X is based on the Oracle-sponsored, open-source NetBeans platform, which has a wide range of third-party plug-ins. The company’s IDE platform supports all of its 8-, 16-, and 32-bit microcontrollers and related digital signal controllers and memory devices.

Today’s software developers rely on IDEs to do their jobs. Thanks to EDA and IC companies, those workspaces just got an improved view.

Impressions from ESC 2011

Friday, May 6th, 2011

By John Blyler

Here are my rough impressions from the last four days of attendance at the Embedded Systems Conference.

The weather was warm and inviting as is shined through the large windows at the San Jose McEnery Conference Center. Inside, the show floor was full with exhibitions.

Attendance to the show floor felt a bit light, but it was consistently even through each day. The training and educations sessions were reportedly well attended.

The main draw on the show floor was the huge museum-like, skeletal display of a T-Rex.  The dinosaur exhibition, provided by Green Hills Software, was very cool but did seem a tad out of place.

By contrast, the many robots located throughout and sometimes roaming the show floor was also cool. They were definitely in place for an embedded conference.

Since I spend a large amount of my time in meetings, I missed the main keynote event delivered by Steve Wozniak, Co-Founder – Apple Computer, Inc. No matter, since Wozniak is also the keynote speaker at next month’s Design Automation Conference. I’ll hear his message at DAC.

Let me stay on the DAC-ish theme of EDA companies to cover their announcements at this week’s ESC event.

Most of the press – well, those of us left standing after the great changes in the media and publication world – were in attendance at Cadence’s in-booth press conference. The purpose of the gathering was to announce the next installment of the company’s EDA360 strategy, namely, “System Realization.”

The words described a need and approach for hardware and software SoC co-design and co-verification. The facts seemed to be the integration of Cadence’s very successful emulation platform (Palladium) with their higher level FPGA and virtual prototyping systems. As I listened to Senior VP and CMO John Bruggeman’s flawless delivery of the message, I couldn’t help but think back to the days of Cadence earlier attempts at co-design, namely, with ESL and SPW. It didn’t help that the ESC announcement was short on specific details, since the “System Realization” activities were still in early engagements with customers.

Not quite as spectacular(1) but still note-worthy was Mentor’s announcements of improvements in their long term goal of owning the system space. Here, system encompasses SoC design, manufacturing, packaging, board design and manufacturing through mechatronics. The company’s announcement focused on the software side of the system, namely, a new integrated development environment base on the open industry GNU tool chain.

Synopsys had a small booth at ESC, but provided no major announcements at the show.

But who goes to ESC to learn about the latest news from the EDA community? It’s the embedded space that counts. I’ll report details about all the embedded news later next week.

(1) What I meant to write was “Not quite the spectacle…” Even editors make misteaks. I mean, mistakes. — JB