Sunday, February 1, 2009

Embedded Systems A Volatile Business

At the end of Embedded systems - a volatile business Jack Ganssle says: Bob Paddock sent me the link [Embedded System Compilers generate dangerous code], and thereby wrecked my day.

Always happy to wreck a day, by pointing out Software Safety issues. :-)

I believe that Jack and I see eye-to-eye on most embedded system issues, but I have to disagree in one area. In his column Skip bugging to speed delivery Jack stated: We only inspect new code because there just isn't time to pour over a million lines of stuff inherited in an acquisition.

Development times are always shorter that we want, so not wanting to look at inherited code may seem like a good shortcut to save time. Myself I do not see it that way. Just because a bug is old, does not mean that it is something to be ignored. The Zune problem, that we have already covered here is a perfect example. The Board Support Package was 'inherited' so it seems no one bothered to inspect the code.

Atmel's new TouchLib product shows us an other example of code that can't be inspected at all. TouchLib is only available as a binary library file. The source code is not available, even under NDA (I asked), to allow for inspection. In Atmel's view this is their way of protecting their Intellectual Property.

If you take the trouble to actually read the three different TouchLib licenses, from registering, installing and in the TouchLib archive, all three more or less say: "If this product screws up it is not our problem".

Why would I want to use code that I can not verify as safe and correct? My company is the one that would have to deal with potential warranty issues, calls from angry customers etc. I should just tell them "Sorry, we used software that we got off the Internet for free, but have no idea how it works"? What would your reaction to that be as a customer? I don't think you'd be very happy. Unhappy customers don't come back as paying customers.