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Handy tips on embedded software development

Posted: 16 May 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:embedded software development? digital lifestyle trend? consumer electronics? GPS devices?

The consumer electronics (CE) industry has had a positive impact on the embedded software industry in recent years. The digital-lifestyle trend has influenced the way we live, work and play. In turn, the demand for high-tech products and components has never been greater. According to Gartner, revenues in Asia-Pacific will reach $165 billion in 2010 and will remain the world's key growth market.

The most visible aspects of the digital lifestyle include the ongoing transition to DTV, and information and digital content on-the-go. With Asia leading the global IPTV revolution, devices that are becoming an increasingly integral part of the digital home are next-generation networked media devices, such as Samsung's Anyview TV and IP-STBs. Digital video recorders and HD DVD players from companies like Toshiba are also gradually making their way into our living rooms. At work, we have Windows Vista-compatible LCD networked projectors. On the road, portable navigation devices are a regular feature in cars, and demand for GPS devices and smart phones continues to increase.

With the digital lifestyle, manufacturers are challenged to re-examine their product road maps, and choose their direction wisely to better capitalize on the trend and the opportunities it brings.

Identify best OS
The software platform of an embedded device is a critical part, as it ensures optimum performance. Manufacturers will need to evaluate the short- to long-term hardware and software requirements for their devices, and determine which OS best fits their needs. The OS will invariably influence the end product's development process, licensing costs, reliability and security.

Today's CE-products market is highly competitive. Devices are becoming increasingly complex with more and more features added to differentiate. This requires an OS that can do more within a single device, handling tasks simultaneously with ease.

Real-time capabilities are also a concern for high-end consumer devices and networked media devices. For example, IP-STBs need to quickly and/or predictably respond to a particular event than for the given amount of work it can perform over time. An example of an OS is Windows Embedded CE 6.0, which has tools for creating a new generation of smart, connected, multimedia-enabled and small-footprint devices.

Reduce development time
The embedded industry faces several challengesOEMs confront mounting pressure to introduce innovative products more quickly while reducing costs and staying competitive in a global market. They also need to secure increased performance and reliability from processors and embedded systems. The choices made when identifying the OS invariably influence the development time. With a powerful OS, OEMs can focus on differentiating their product rather than recreating the OS from scratch or hunting down software to fill in the gaps. Increasingly, they are making the choice to liberate themselves from being an OS vendor to focusing on what mattersbringing great CE products to market. Finding skilled partners who have experience with embedded projects and CE devices can also help.

An available pool of skilled developers can minimize the learning curve and, if need be, can be called in to assist in cutting down the development time. Embedded software companies provide tools such as integrated development environments, compilers, assemblers and debuggersall required to develop embedded software.

Select right tools
Development tools and components, and technical support can be obtained through active communities or from vendors.

Demand for GPS devices and smart phones continues to increase.

In developing networked media devices, OEMs usually go through a long and costly shopping spree to obtain all the components needed to build the deviceOS (Linux/open source), media playback, networking and device drivers, user interface, codecs and digital rights managementand to integrate all these. While open-source OS has certain advantages over commercial embedded operating systems, an embedded OS provides the key networking, device drivers and media engine (including codecs) required. It also eliminates the need for OEMs to shop around for compatible third-party middleware, thus saving valuable time that could be spent on product differentiation.

Moreover, commercial embedded OS vendors regularly release product updates or feature packs and new versions to target the needs of OEMs today, and ensure scalability for anticipated device requirements. Feature packs usually come with built-in middleware components that provide all the key networking, device drivers and codecs required.

Protect your IP
Software is built not just on a complex array of technical code, but also on a complicated set of intellectual property (IP) rights. These rights are fundamental to the industry's ability to create new products. Embedded device makers should take IP risk management seriously and ensure that their software has all the appropriate IP rights to avoid being exposed to unnecessary risk.

According to a report from Sidley, Austin, Brown & Wood LLP Indemnification Primer, the average cost of a relatively modest infringement action through trial is reported to be at least $500,000 per party. Moreover, in suits where more than $25 million is at risk, the cost escalates to $4 million per party.

Furthermore, many companies who develop Linux OS's using GPL-based code do not realize that they are violating the GPL by not publishing their modifications to the kernel or device drivers back to the community. By using Windows Embedded CE 6.0 and the Shared Source code provided, any modifications they make are theirs to keepthere is no need to publish it.

These are helpful tips that designers and manufacturers can keep in mind when developing embedded systems and devices that will enable OEMs and device manufacturers to capitalize on the digital lifestyle. Going forward, device makers will face greater pressure to innovate and differentiate feature-rich devices and reduce development time.

- John Boladian
Lead Product Manager, Asia Pacific & Greater China
Windows Embedded, Microsoft Corp.

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