SAN JOSE, Calif. Hardware and software companies need to form alliances if they expect to bring products to market faster, Wind River Systems Chairman Jerry Fiddler told an audience of 300 engineers at the Embedded Processor Forum Tuesday.
"Hardware and software are both moving very fast, and we can't afford to move in separate ways," Fiddler said. "The people building the chips need to cooperate with the people creating the software in ways that are unprecedented."
In the forum's keynote speech, Fiddler said that two market factors are creating a situation in which software and hardware companies must work with one another. The first factor, he said, is the convergence of desktop computing and embedded applications. The second is that microprocessor makers are cranking out new derivatives at an unprecedented pace.
"On the desktop, companies traditionally concentrated on building an extremely general purpose platform," he said. "Then came the embedded world, where everything was built for a specific purpose. "Now, you have a convergence of those two in the world of smart devices. These devices are built for a specific purpose, but they're also programmable. And they're defined by some combination of hardware and software."
At the same time, software makers must contend with frantic hardware development rates, he said. "Last year, there was a new chip derivative every six weeks," Fiddler said. "Now, it's every four weeks."
Ally or die
Wind River deals with the fast pace and changing nature of the markets by developing so-called "Centers of Excellence," he said. The company announced today that it has created a Center of Excellence with MIPS Technologies, which will allow the two firms to combine engineering and marketing resources in the creation of specific products.
Wind River said the arrangement will allow it to facilitate porting of its Tornado development platform and VxWorks operating system for the MIPS32 an d MIPS64 processor architectures. The partnership will allow both companies to develop consumer product applications faster and more easily, Fiddler said.
The arrangement is said to be similar to a partnership with Intel that Wind River announced a year ago. That partnership focused on the Intel IA-32, and resulted in the creation of new drivers and the announcement of an embedded Pentium III in February, 2000.
Fiddler said he expects Wind River to make similar alliances with other semiconductor companies and makers of networking systems. Partnerships with customers, such as automakers or medical companies, could eventually happen, but aren't expected in the near future. "These kind of partnerships happen when the pain gets so great that it just makes sense for the two companies to work together," he said.
Ultimately, however, customers will gain from a closer relationship between software companies and semiconductor makers, he said. The reason: Software is becoming more complex and the amount of it that goes into a system is so great that customers can more easily get a leg up on a project if hardware and software firms work together.
"We've got to give the customer something that works," he said. "We can no longer give the customer a set of components and expect them to put them all together."