Archive for the ‘General’ Category

So What’s All This “Firmware” Stuff, Anyhow?

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Most people who have any contact with a computer these days will probably have come across the terms “hardware” and “software”:

“Hardware” is physical stuff – things you can touch, and see, and would hurt if you dropped them on your toe!

If you need to change “hardware” it means getting out screwdrivers and the like, and fiddling with cables, plugs, and other such mechanical & electrical stuff.

“Software” is more nebulous; in the old days, it at least came on a disk (or disks) in a box with a big manual (that you never read); but, nowadays, you can just download it – so it has no physical existence at all.

“Software” can be changed – added, removed, reconfigured – with just a few clicks of the mouse; no effort or tools required at all! It is this ease of changeability that gives rise to the “soft” in “software”

So where does “firmware” come in? “Updating firmware” is a topic that sometimes appears in the obscure pages at the back of the instructions for some high-tech gadgets; or, if your gadget is misbehaving, you might be asked about its “firmware version”…

As the name might suggest, “firmware” is a kind of hybrid; somewhere in between “hardware” and “software”.  Firmware is a special type of software that is fixed into a piece of hardware.  Thus it is not so easy to change (or update) as software, but easier to change (or update) than hardware; to put that another way, it is “harder” than software, but “softer” than hardware!

Firmware is usually associated with Embedded Systems (see previous blog entry), as they tend to lack the interfaces and storage of a “normal” computer for loading & storing software in the “normal” manner – hence their operating programs (or “software”) have to be fixed into the hardware as “firmware”!

All clear now?


Beware that your spell-checker doesn’t accidentally change your firmware into
formwork – which is something completely different…!

So What’s All This “Embedded System” Stuff, Anyhow?

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

When people ask me what I do, if I mention “embedded systems”, it usually just produces a blank look!

So let’s start this blog with a plain-words description of what an “embedded system” means.

It has been said that there is more computing power in your car today than was used to put men on the moon in the Apollo missions – but you wouldn’t think of  your car as a computer, would you?

This is the key to an embedded system: it is something that provides computing power, but is hidden – or “embedded” – within something that is not a computer!

So, back at the car, where is this “not-a-computer” hiding? Where is it “embedded”? In fact, there is not just one – there are many! The key one, central to the operation of the car itself, is the engine management computer; another one manages the anti-lock brakes; one for the air conditioning; one for the central locking; one in the radio; and, probably, several more…

These days, embedded systems are increasingly taking over things that used to be done by mechanical controls: washing machines; central heating timers; etc, etc…

Quite possibly, the free toy with the kids meal from a hamburger restaurant contains a tiny embedded system to flash the lights and play the annoying tune!

Hopefully this has given some meaning to the term “embedded system”. They can be big, they can be tiny; they can be essential, they can be trivial – but they are all around us in the modern world!

So long for now,


Antronics Ltd – Embedded Systems Specialists

Hello world!

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Well, it seems that having a blog is the thing to do – so here goes!

I’m not intending to have a regular schedule – just as & when something comes up.

The content will generally be to do with embedded systems & software/firmware development – but I may throw in the odd “general interest” topic from time-to-time.

We’ll see…


Antronics Ltd – Embedded Systems Specialists