Twenty-five years ago industrial applications were just moving from hard-wired controllers to microprocessor-based systems, a change that eliminated much of the cost, many of the parts, a lot of the assembly effort, and many points of potential failure of electronic systems. Since then, cost, power savings, safety, convenience, features, and reliability have all driven the proliferation of products with embedded intelligence.
Since that time, while PCs have remained relatively expensive and complex to use, embedded products have had to be inexpensive and reliable. Now the pundits are saying that the next millennium will see the burgeoning of the post-PC era, and functions that once resided on PCs will move to less expensive, more appliance-like products (see “Mac Attack” Nov. 1999). This shift represents a discontinuity, says Jerry Fiddler, founder of Wind River Systems, and discontinuities offer new business opportunites. As we move beyond the PC, he expects new companies will gain ascendancy. Leaders such as Microsoft and Intel may not have such an easy time of it going forward because of the shift from the PC to heterogeneous platforms.
Another long-predicted change will be further consolidation in the embedded tools/RTOS business. As the year draws to a close, Wind River is acquiring Integrated Systems Inc. (ISI). If you recall, ISI had previously acquired Dr. Design, Epilogue, Take Five, SDS, and Diab Data. In addition, semiconductor companies are taking a new look at tools and their relationship with tool suppliers. Chip vendors would just as soon sell chips and let third-party vendors develop, sell, maintain, and support tools, but the world is not always that simple. As processors get more complex, the relationships between chip vendors and suppliers are changing. The acquisition of Metrowerks by Motorola is a prominent example. TI’s acquisition of Go DSP and Tartan also reflect this trend.
While Fiddler expects to benefit from the discontinuity, it is also creating a wedge for other solutions. For example, the open source movement may affect how companies do business. In fact, that’s one of the interesting issues to watch going into the new century.
What will it all mean for you, back in your labs and back in front of your monitors after your New Year’s celebrations? You won’t see yourselves in a whole new world. Day-to-day changes are rarely momentous. But the last 25 years have taught us that change is business as usual. If there were no change, you might as well be designing toothpaste tubes. Those companies that anticipate change and accommodate it are more likely to thrive. That’s what makes the industry exciting.