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Embedded systems seen evolving into 'Device Software'

During the past two years, 'lifecycle management' strategies have surfaced among a wide range of development tool makers, software testing companies, and even database vendors. But the idea of providing a bundle of tools and technologies equipped to handle all aspects of application planning, development, and deployment has been slow to catch on in the world of embedded software development, where targeted-purpose tools have been the norm.

That changes this week, when one of the leading vendors of operating systems, development tools, and middleware for devices, Wind River Systems, jumps on the lifecycle bandwagon.

'To tell you the truth, our industry has almost lagged behind in this area,' John Bruggeman, Wind River's chief marketing officer, tells eADT. 'But there is a seminal shift going on in our market. It’s dramatic, and it is being driven by changes in the applications our customers are writing. Our industry used to be about providing a real-time operating system and some development tools. That’s just not enough anymore.'

Alameda, Calif.-based Wind River is probably best known as the provider of an embedded OS that was installed on the Mars Exploration Rover 'Spirit.' Bruggeman argues that changes to what has been known as the embedded systems market has rendered the term 'embedded' all but irrelevant.

'It implies that it’s about the hardware,' he says. 'There’s software embedded in hardware. That’s just the wrong way to think about this industry now. It’s really about the device software. More and more of our customers are using that terminology, and it's because, in more and more cases, they're thinking about the software before they think about the hardware.'

Today, software is the product differentiator, he says. Hardware has been commoditized. New car buyers no longer compare disc brakes. They compare on-board navigation systems and under-the-hood diagnostics. As the device software eclipses the devices, it gets bigger and extends its reach.

Fueled by the dual drivers of accelerating complexity and escalating connectivity, device software has grown from a few hundred lines of code to thousands, changing, Bruggeman says, the underlying nature of the market segment.

To provide its customers with the technology to cope with all that change, Wind River has re-architected its Wind Power IDE to create a device software development suite designed to optimize the entire development and support lifecycle.

Dubbed Wind River Workbench, the new solution is built on the Eclipse 3.0 framework to serve as a 'general-purpose platform' that pre-integrates standardized development platforms to optimize all phases of the device software development process, from concept to deployed products, Bruggeman says. Because it is Eclipse-based it can accept Eclipse plugins, and Bruggeman claims that it’s the first and only development suite in the device software space to embrace multiple OSs; it works with VxWorks, Linux, and others.

'Workbench is designed for every engineer on the project,' he says. 'It’s for the guy trying to bring a chip up live on a board. It’s for on-chip debugging and modifying the kernel for specific application features. And it’s for the application developer who wants nothing to do with that hardcore stuff and just wants to do some software development. It’s designed to be an end-to-end solution throughout the whole lifecycle.'

Wind River plans to release the first version of the new Workbench suite in December. Information about its beta rollout program is available at www.windriver.com.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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