Thought Leadership

Embedded software tools – then and now

By Colin Walls

Although I have a broad interest in embedded software, I started out in tools – compilers, debuggers etc. – and, in some ways, my loyalty still lies there. My eye was caught, therefore, by a recent report by VDC which looked at the state of the embedded software development tools market.

They looked at how the market has developed and where it is going. I thought that it was interesting to compare their analysis with my own experience and where I find myself today …

The history that VDC describes is almost exactly what I experienced:

I started at Microtec Research in 1986. We developed, sold and supported a range of embedded software development tools. That was all we did. In fact, we only had compilers, assemblers, linkers and some rather primitive simulation tools. It was about a year later that XRAY, the first real embedded software debugger, was released.

We got into the RTOS business, enabling us to offer customers a “complete solution”, in the early 1990s when we acquired Ready Systems and the VRTX RTOS. Some years later, after Microtec was bought by Mentor Graphics, this position was further solidified by the acquisition of Accelerated Technology and the Nucleus RTOS.

So, for quite a few years, customers have been offered complete solutions of proprietary RTOS and tools by numerous vendors, supporting a wide range of embedded processors. As VDC document, two things have changed in recent years:

  • Chip vendors have increasingly moved from a partnering strategy with tools vendors to offering their own tool sets. [Which, interestingly, was exactly what was done before companies like Microtec were founded.]
  • Many users have been attracted to open source tools as a cost effective solution.

The good news [from my point of view] is that Mentor Embedded did not need to wait for this research, as these trends were already becoming apparent. This resulted in the acquisition of CodeSourcery, which facilitated world-class expertise in open source embedded tools. So, the two trends above have driven two capabilities:

  • We can cost-effectively provide chip vendors with an optimally configured and packaged open source tools solution, which enables their customers to make best use of the capabilities of their silicon.
  • End users can be supplied with fully configured open source tool chains at a reasonable cost, which are a breeze to install – the Sourcery CodeBench product line. They can be up and running in minutes and have the comforting knowledge that support is there, as and when needed.

Maybe we did not learn from VDC this time around, but it is always good get affirmation.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at