Tasking, one of the last independent providers of DSP software development tools, announced last month that it has been acquired. Over the past few years many of Tasking's competitors have also been acquired—several by major DSP processor vendors; Texas Instruments, Motorola, and Analog Devices have each acquired development tool specialists. Such acquisitions highlight how important tools have become to DSP system developers.
In the early days of embedded DSP software, programs were necessarily small and simple—available processors were simply too limited for anything else. Developers at that time could and did make do with relatively poor software tools.
DSP application software today is much larger and more complex— programs often contain tens of thousands of lines of source code. But while modern processors are far more powerful, typical DSP applications still require careful optimization to reach cost and energy consumption goals. The time-to-market pressures associated with DSP-oriented consumer products have further intensified the challenges faced by DSP software engineers.
These trends have caused tools and other application-development infrastructure to take center stage in the DSP world. The selection of a processor for a DSP application is now just as likely to hinge on the quality and availability of development aids as on the quality of the processor.
Savvy processor vendors now understand the vital importance of high-quality, full-featured software tools. But tools development is a massive undertaking that requires years of work and eight-figure budgets. Some processor vendors are attempting to streamline the process by acquiring established tools providers.
These acquisitions present a double-edged sword. The good news is that many DSP processor suppliers have recognized the importance of software tools, and are making the necessary investments. The bad news is that independent DSP software tool companies—who often lead the industry with innovative technology and provide software developers with a welcome alternative to lackluster tools from processor vendors—may soon become extinct.
It is possible, however, that the few remaining independent DSP software tool developers will see opportunity in the thinned competitive field, and will remain independent. For the sake of current and future DSP software developers, let's hope that this is the case.