Examining your most important tools

July 08, 2009

Jack Ganssle-July 08, 2009

What is your favorite tool? I'm particularly fond of my wood lathe, but for this publication let's narrow the question to tools used by embedded systems developers.

I vote for the oscilloscope. It's the universal electronic engineering tool, beloved by hardware and software people. It's also the most underused tool in the firmware realm.

A recent Embedded Market Study conducted by TechInsights, this magazine's publisher, showed that just 37% of us rated the scope as their "favorite/most important hardware/software tool." Number one, at 55% is the compiler and assembler.1

"Favorite" and "most important" probably don't go well together. The compiler is certainly one of the most important tools we use since it's impossible to build any bit of firmware without it. But it's hardly my favorite. In fact, the ideal compiler should be so nonintrusive and do its quite boring work so well that we should barely notice it's there. It's like a bilge pump that silently and constantly does a hugely important job but is unnoticed and under-appreciated.

Why did the scope fair so poorly? According to, the global market for scopes will be about $1.25 billion in 2010.2 That's pretty small compared with many categories of electronics products (microprocessors, for instance) but huge for the embedded systems tools market.

Click on image to enlarge.

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