How Hard Could It Be? And Other Questions From My Recent Embedded.fm Podcast

I was recently asked to join a podcast on embedded.fm to talk about my background and experience in the embedded industry. Hosted by Elecia and Chris White, it turned into a wide ranging interview about real time operating systems (RTOSes) – their history, how they’re developed, how they work, what they do, why they’re needed – along with when or when not to use an RTOS, benefits of certification, where open source RTOSes fit into the equation, etc. I even got the chance to address some burning questions about Micrium’s recent acquisition by Silicon Labs.

One major theme throughout the podcast is how RTOSes are fundamentally “infrastructure software,” and as such, using a proven RTOS offers a huge advantage when designing an application. For those of you who may not know, I first wrote µC/OS because as a product designer, my team couldn’t find a bug-free RTOS to use and I thought “how hard could it be.” While I definitely found out how hard it could be, the reality is that especially now, as applications get more complex, designers should be spending their time on the value-added aspects of their application instead of on writing the underlying software, like an RTOS.

Another theme of the interview is my commitment to education. µC/OS didn’t start as a commercial enterprise, that actually came much later. Having personally felt the frustration of working with a binary RTOS with bugs, I initially set out to educate the industry about RTOSes by writing and publishing the source code – which was quite controversial at the time, I tell the story in the podcast. Published first in Embedded Systems Programming Magazine as a series of articles, the code was then turned into a book, which allowed me to really explain the role of an RTOS in addition to providing and illustrating the code. From there, I moved on to presenting and lecturing at conferences to help train successive generations of engineers on RTOS and best coding practices. Even this podcast offered a chance to give my view on what an RTOS is, what a kernel is, how to use RTOS hook functions and the challenges of stack overflows!

I also really appreciated the opportunity to address some questions about Micrium’s recent acquisition by Silicon Labs. The fact is that yes, we are part of Silicon Labs – and excited to be so! Inquiring minds want to know what will change now… and I’m pleased to answer “not much.” Throughout the acquisition process, we were very clear that there should be no change to customer support. Micrium has always put its customers first, it is an outgrowth of my commitment to education and not something that Micrium was willing to compromise on. I was surprised to hear there are rumors that our large library of books (µC/OS, µC/TCP-IP and µC/USB-Device) books will no longer be available for free (false!). In fact, even our µC/OS for Makers program will continue, allowing private developers and startups to use our full, non-crippled, RTOS as well as protocol stacks for free (for non-commercial use), in addition to access to a huge number of sample projects available on Micrium’s website. I am proud that I will maintain my commitment to educating the industry; in fact I hope that one outcome of the acquisition is that I am able to do more writing, presenting, videos, etc., to share my knowledge and that of our fine team with the industry.

This is a very exciting time to be in the embedded industry. So many things are happening right now and there is a ton of new technology in development. From my perspective RTOSes are needed now more than ever, which is very motivating. I anticipate that security will be a huge area of development and RTOSes too will need to evolve. I wish to thank Elecia and Chris for taking the time to speak with me. I appreciated the opportunity to share some of the knowledge I’ve gained over the years with them and their audience. I encourage you to listen to the full podcast on embedded.fm: http://embedded.fm/episodes/175.

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