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 Embedded Software
Colin Walls
Colin Walls
Colin Walls has over thirty years experience in the electronics industry, largely dedicated to embedded software. A frequent presenter at conferences and seminars and author of numerous technical articles and two books on embedded software, Colin is an embedded software technologist with Mentor … More »

Choosing an embedded operating system

 
November 15th, 2016 by Colin Walls

I was recently approached for help by a Mentor Graphics customer, who was planning a new project and needed to select an operating system. They wanted guidance with that choice. Of course, one is tempted to say that it does not matter which of our products they chose (as, between them, Nucleus RTOS and Mentor Embedded Linux do cover most possibilities), but I felt they needed something more objective.

There is actually a huge choice. Given that it is decided to purchase an OS, instead of developing something in-house (an expensive option which rarely makes sense), there is the choice between the “heavyweight” OSes, like Windows CE and various flavors of Linux, and around 200 other, mostly real time (RTOS), products. What the customer was after was a simple decision driven process, like a flowchart … Read the rest of Choosing an embedded operating system

USB – class drivers

 
October 17th, 2016 by Colin Walls

I have frequently written about various aspects of USB and presented many seminar and conference sessions on the topic. I find it interesting that, considering that USB is such a straightforward technology for most users to utilize, its deployment in devices can be quite challenging.

A particular area of confusion is USB Class Drivers. The word “class” is very overloaded in the software world – it has numerous meanings. And the term “driver” is far from precise. So, it is unsurprising that the subject provokes discussion … Read the rest of USB – class drivers

Device registers in C

 
September 19th, 2016 by Colin Walls

Mentor Graphics has historically been dedicated to providing tools for electronic hardware designers and that still represents a very large proportion of the business. Ever since I was acquired into the company, I have found that the hardware focused guys have a healthy interest in software – embedded software in particular. Often, they are specifically concerned with the boundary between software and hardware … Read the rest of Device registers in C

Shared code in embedded systems

 
August 15th, 2016 by Colin Walls

A constant challenge I have found, when teaching or mentoring people, is to avoid making assumptions about what they know. I have found that it is so easy to assume that, because something is obvious to me, it is clearly apparent to everyone else. On numerous occasions I have discovered that this not to be the case. Of course, the best response to this realization is not to treat everyone else as stupid, but try to explain something clearly and then listen to the echo back of the explanation.

In developing software – embedded software in particular – there are certain things that are fundamental, particularly around the conservation of resources. More than once I have been surprised by engineers’ inability to focus on this issue … Read the rest of Shared code in embedded systems

C++ reference parameters – the downside

 
July 18th, 2016 by Colin Walls

Something that I have discovered over the years is a great pleasure. When I am giving information – presenting, teaching, writing an article or a blog – it is not necessarily a one-way process. I often receive useful and interesting information back. I have commented that I learn as much from delivering a class as I might from attending one.

I was recently talking about C++ for embedded at a conference and considering some of the features that I felt resulted in better, clearer and more bug-free code. One of these was the option to pass parameters by reference. Then someone explained a drawback of this feature …
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C++ – for loops

 
June 16th, 2016 by Colin Walls

I am [mostly] a fan of using C++ for embedded applications. I believe its use needs care, but broadly, I feel that it offers many simple improvements over C and appropriate use of object oriented techniques can be very beneficial. Today I want to talk about the place of C++ as a “better C language”. There are numerous syntactical improvements that can be leveraged to make code just a little more readable and maintainable.

However, there are some minor “quirks” that can catch the unwary programmer. Who would have thought that you could go wrong with a plain old for loop? …
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Firmly in line

 
May 16th, 2016 by Colin Walls

A common compiler optimization is the inclusion of a function’s code at the location(s) from where the function is called, instead of just having calls to the code located elsewhere: inlining. This provides a speed advantage, as the call/return sequence is eliminated, but may increase the memory footprint, if the function is more than a few instructions and is called more than once. I have written about this topic before, here and here.

I have an enduring interest in code generation and compiler optimizations and my consideration of inlining was piqued by a recent comment on one of my earlier posts. I realized that there are two implementation related aspects of inlining which are particularly relevant to embedded software developers …
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Go Forth!

 
April 18th, 2016 by Colin Walls

I was writing recently about my fondness for RPN [Reverse Polish Notation] and this reminded me of a programming language, designed specifically for real time and embedded applications, which has largely been forgotten: Forth. It is interesting to look at how Forth worked and the benefits it offered for embedded developers. I am not proposing that the language be revived and used for new developments, but I think there are valuable lessons to be learned.

My attention was originally draw to Forth when somebody told me that there was a programming language which facilitated the generation of code using less memory than an assembly language implementation of the same functionality. I did not believe them, but it hooked me in …

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RTOS deployment

 
March 15th, 2016 by Colin Walls

Since the earliest days of computers, they have been used for real time control applications. In the 1960s and early ‘70s, it was common to use a small mainframe or a mini-computer to control machinery or instrumentation. These computers typically ran under the control of a specialized operating system, which was designed for real time use. Examples include RSX-11 and RT-11, which were used on DEC PDP-11 machines.

These “real time operating systems” were typically interactive and worked similarly to those used for data processing applications. An operator command would start, control and stop the real time application programs. They could also be configured to be “turn key”, so that switching on the computer would cause the OS to be booted, which would then start the applications automatically. With the advent of microprocessors and, hence, embedded systems, a new approach was needed … Read the rest of RTOS deployment

The one line RTOS

 
February 15th, 2016 by Colin Walls

I like simple things. Excessive complexity tends to annoy me. When I first started working with computers, I thought that mainframes were overly complicated, so I was pleased to discover minicomputers, where I could really understand exactly what was going on. Embedded software was a natural progression, as, again, I could grasp the entire functionality of the software. But that began to change, as commercial real time operating systems and other software IP became more common. Everything became more complex and invisible.

I am not saying that this situation is necessarily a problem or that all complexity is intrinsically bad. It is just that sometimes I yearn for the simple life. It might be suggested that perhaps the world of software is not the best place for me, but I will ignore those murmurings and consider where simplicity might still be appropriate … Read the rest of The one line RTOS

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