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The Embedded Software Beat

A Q&A with John Carbone, Vice President of Marketing, Express Logic

This interview is the first in a series that we look to conduct during the course of 2012 with embedded software solution providers to share views on their company, products, and state of the market.

VDC: Congratulations on the 15 year anniversary for Express Logic in the RTOS business.  Can you briefly introduce the company to our readers?

Carbone: Express Logic is a software company, focused on real-time operating systems (RTOS), related middleware, and development tools for embedded systems. Our ThreadX RTOS was introduced in 1997, and has been deployed in over 1.25 billion electronic products, including HP printers, Apple iPhones, Welch Allyn medical devices, and a host of other well-known products in the consumer, medical and industrial-control areas. Our technology is small, fast, real-time, and easy to use. Our products are licensed with full source code and are 100% royalty-free.

VDC: You recently reported a record banner year for product license sales for 2011. What were the drivers for this success?

Carbone: We believe the biggest factor was the large number of embedded development projects that were “re-activated” from previous suspensions at the onset of the economic downturn. Many companies, both new and repeat customers, funded projects that required an RTOS, and we were fortunate to have been selected by a good number of them, leading to our record revenue for 2011. We saw the beginning of this activity in late 2010, and it continued through 2011 to this day.

Also fueling our record sales in 2011 is the popularity of ARM’s Cortex-M3 and M4 architectures, for which ThreadX is an ideal fit and for which our royalty-free licensing is especially appealing. High-volume manufacturers of smartphones and other handheld devices that use Cortex-M3 and M4 also find our no-royalty licensing a great way to reduce their COGS.

VDC: Express Logic recently expanded the product engineering team in Shanghai, China. What’s the status of the move and what responsibilities will the Shanghai team have?

Carbone: Our engineering team in Shanghai, established during 2011, focuses on networking software. They develop high-performance drivers for our NetX Duo TCP/IP stack, enabling us to support the plethora of Ethernet controllers used in networked devices. The team, made up of university graduate researchers with excellent skills in embedded software development, is managed by our VP of Engineering, who is a native of Shanghai. This gives us a unique ability to interact with the team, and it has led to numerous successful projects even in this short period of time.

VDC: The ThreadX RTOS has been deployed in over a billion devices.  How does ThreadX scale to meet the engineering needs for such a broad spectrum of applications (from printers to cell phones to space probes)?

Carbone: ThreadX is much like a RISC architecture for software. We provide fundamental services, from which more complex operations can be constructed. Like a RISC processor, these services are designed to be extremely fast, so they can be combined and applied to a wide variety of applications without excessive overhead. This makes ThreadX efficient for both small and large requirements, much like RISC processors that now handle virtually all computing requirements in embedded systems.

VDC: The “Build versus Buy” dilemma has been a challenge facing engineering organizations for years.  How has the growing availability of low to no cost open source and other types of RTOS solutions affected the decision to migrate to commercially available and supported OS platforms?

Carbone: Certainly, there are applications that do not warrant an RTOS, but these are at the very low end of functionality, and are generally one-shot solutions for very specific, simple needs. Beyond these opportunities, we believe that a “build” decision is both inefficient and unnecessary, given the wealth of commercial offerings that are available. And, we believe that selection of a “free” or “low-cost” solution simply because of its price is misguided. Studies indicate that the benefits of a product that gets to market faster far outweigh any savings in acquisition cost. Developers should be alarmed by the fact that these same studies show that “free” offerings can slow time to market below the industry average, exposing the development team to the extremely painful and expensive cost of “free.”

The use of quality development tools and RTOS increase the likelihood of product success through faster time to market, greater product quality and reduced support costs. These benefits far outweigh any cost savings from DIY or “free” tools and RTOS use. So, in our opinion, either building in-house or using a “free” or “low-cost” solution, solely based on cost considerations, is unwise. We believe that the investment in selecting and using “the best tools for the job” pays many dividends through the production of better products, brought to market sooner than would be experienced with inferior tools.

More than once, teams, that elected to use low-cost tools due to lack of budget, have returned to us 6-18 months later after experiencing disappointing results. In such instances, the cost these customers incurred, both in extended development and loss of time to market, is incredibly unfortunate.

VDC: If you were to take a look a look into your crystal ball, how do see the opportunities for the embedded software market shaping up for 2012?

Carbone: I fully expect the global economy to continue its recovery, slowly but surely, and with that will come the spending that motivates manufacturing companies to develop new products for these buyers. I’m optimistic about the long-term, and I’m looking forward to another great year for Express Logic.

VDC: Thank you John.

Interested in participating in VDC’s “The Embedded Software Beat” series of interviews? Please reach out and let us know.

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