GNU Tools -

GNU Tools


In my recent column, ToolCosts,  about the cost of tools, several respondents commentedthat the open source movement has contributed to the expectation onmanagement's part that software tools are, or should be, free.

“Free” software really isn't, of course. The motto of the lateCyngus Corporation, prior to being absorbed by Red Hat, was “We MakeFree Software Affordable.” I see the truism borne out by so manyfirmware groups who consume months “quickly tossing” Linux into theirapp. A large infrastructure of commercial firms and consultants makeplenty of money supporting embedded Linux.

Yet the open source resources and tools are compelling.Though some, mostly the marginal tools that have a small user base, areawful, the mainstream open source tools sure work well. Being atechnology gadfly the tool vendors are happy to send me free copies oftheir proprietary products, many of which are wonderful. But I'd belost without my suite of GNU goodies.

Instead of going through the hassle of installing a CD-full ofbinaries every time I want to run an experiment, it takes seconds tofire up gcc on Linux. Then there's the dreaded Windows registry agony:uninstalls often leave severed tentacles behind. Eventually a reformatand complete OS reinstall becomes necessary, which can take days. SoI'm loathe to install anything that isn't absolutely necessary on myWindows boxes.

OSS advocates can be very vocal. Yell “Microsoft Rocks” at a Linuxconvention and expect a verbal lynching. Tools and OSes are just pilesof bits. Pick the ones that excel in your applications and leave thereligion at home.

I have doubts that OSS has changed management's attitude towardstools much. For the 30+ years of my career I've always heard howls fromthe corner office about expensive software products.

In 1975 my boss approved $60k+ (in today's dollars) for adevelopment system, which was a large blue box that obviously hadvalue, and upon which accounting could fix a property tag. But he wentballistic about a few hundred bucks for the editor/assembler/linker.

Me, I use both free and proprietary tools under both Windows andLinux, and sometimes run a hermaphrodite mix under VMware or Cygwin.Till recently I preferred the nice IDEs common to proprietary toolsover command-line interfaces for real projects. Now that Eclipse hastaken the industry by storm, that advantage has somewhat evaporated.

Ironically, many vendors now provide an Eclipse IDE. And even moreironically Eclipse seems to have mirrored the bloat OSS advocatesrailed about for so many years. Google on “eclipse” and “more memory”and you'll get 53k hits. Though change “eclipse” to “windows” and overa million pop up.

But what sort of tools do we use? Take the poll;it'll be interesting to see the mix between OSS and proprietary.

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embeddeddevelopment issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helpscompanies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at . His website is

I have seen the extreme ends … and quite a bit in-between! The following comes to mind:Foreign development team that uses ONLY some text editor:

– Write their own OS

– Write their own compiler!

– Write their own debugger


Team that 'partners' with a development company and purchases a scad of stuff. Even stuff they don't and will never use

… and everything else in between! The most common arrangement is:

– Some well-known text editor, (other than Notepad or ED!)

– Some off-the-shelf OS

– printf for debugging

– spinup is done by some consultant that has purchased some modicum of tools.

– Ken Wada

I like your recent columns on tools issues. Everyone's got to use 'em, so everyone's got some experiences and opinions.

A small issue with semantics. Some people have fallen into the habit of referring to commercial tools as “proprietary.” Proprietary is something done and kept in-house. It's proprietary.

By contrast, tools from commercial vendors are meant to be licensed and used by external firms. In many cases, source code is provided as part of the deal. They're hardly “proprietary.”

So the real distinction between commerical and open-source tools has more to do with who created the source and how it's distributed. That said, it seems open-source tools like GNU have matured and are great for common needs like compilers, make utilities, etc.. However, it seems the really innovative technologies, the breakthroughs, still come from the commercial vendors.

– Jan Liband

With Eclipse concept things like a developing platform and an application framework are morphing towards the phenomena other industry tends to call a standard. With multiple vendors uniting behind common IDE and data exchange/communication infrastructure, maybe the software engineering is finally taking it's next steps of becoming an art of engineering. Eclipse CDT, RSE, and JTAG support are probably the best things happened to firmware development for awhile.

– Jussi Vanska

In many non-software driven companies it is often the project process plan which does not allow full software tool costs to occur before start of development, based on the assumption that (mechanical) tooling costs are allowed after prototype approval.

So software is built with leftovers from other projects until at least customer purchase orders are signed.

– Bernhard Kockoth

Open Source tools can be “tweeked” to your desire, while proprietary tools aren't. Pick your posion.

– Steve King.

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