The Case for Open Source Embedded Development Tools

We love gcc. As embedded developers we also love IAR as a tool chain vendor. Their products are well known and produce quality code. Most importantly is the fact that IAR’s compiler and debugger/simulator can be used via the command line in batch mode. This allows it to play nicely with our open source testing tools. There is, however, a catch for using IAR. It is not free nor open source.

A white paper by Microcross discussed some of the advantages of using open source tools for embedded projects. One of the problems with using proprietary tools is that you can become “locked” into a particular vendor’s ecosystem of tools never to escape with a penny left in your coffers. Another problem is that without the source code your tool set is the way it is and there’s no way to change it and adapt it for your particular development process and needs. On the other hand, large organizations are willing and happy to pay for great tools with powerful debugging features. Perhaps we should spend more time and money on developing open source tools for more platforms.

I was impressed by the number of MCU’s already supported by GCC and GDB. They include Renesas SuperH (a powerful platform we’ve been using recently) and Atmel AVR. The GCC support for AVR is crucial to that wonderful development community: Arduino

  • Karl says:

    Just wanted to show some love for the Arduino! It’s one of my favorite toys. Also, in terms of tooling/debugging, have you looked at the Netduino?

    It’s an open source hardware design that works with the .NET Micro Framework (also open source). The thing I really like about it is that you get to use Visual Studio Express (not open source, but at least its free) to write the code for it; then hook up the Netduino and you can debug directly from within VS! While this doesn’t really solve the problem of tooling lock-in, it does provide a very low cost but high quality tooling/debug environment on a decent embedded platform.

    Also, I know how you guys love your unit testing, there are several solutions out there for writing tests, like this: or this:

    • Nick Christensen nick christensen says:

      Thanks carl! That looks like almost exactly what I was looking for!

  • […] »I want to love EclipseBy Nick Christensen | Published: September 30, 2011In June I wrote a post about the need for more open source tools for embedded development. More and more I see Eclipse as […]

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