embedded software boot camp

Tool Upgrades

Saturday, March 31st, 2007 by Nigel Jones

As a consultant that does hardware , firmware & software work for my clients, I use a large array of software tools – half a dozen compilers, schematic capture and PCB layout tools, analysis tools as well as the usual gaggle of productivity tools that non-engineers also use. Throw in the tools for running a business and my PC is a regular treasure trove of applications.

With all these tools, the number of upgrades / updates is starting to get out of hand. Every week, it seems I’m updating a major application. The most common scenario seems to be:

  1. I haven’t used a tool in a month or so.
  2. I invoke it – and it tells me that an update is available. Often the mandate is ‘mandatory’ or at least ‘recommended’.
  3. I accept the update.
  4. The download proceeds. Some of them are simply enormous (Ever downloaded the Xilinx Webpack IDE?)
  5. The patch then proceeds. The time to execute the patch is often considerable.
  6. Finally – the dreaded ‘You must restart your computer’ directive. I’ve a dozen applications open, web pages marked, manuals at strategic places – and now I have to close them all down.

Having gone through all this rigmarole, I can finally start using the tool. Of course by now, I just want to ‘get on with it’, and so the release notes often get cursory attention. Inevitably, if I do read the release notes then I find the upgrade is completely useless to me (e.g. support for a new device that I’m not using). If I don’t read the release notes then of course there’s this really neat feature that’s been added that really makes life easier – and I don’t find out about it until weeks later.

Well – enough complaining. Do I have any suggestions? I think so. I’d like tool vendors to realize that their tool isn’t the only one in the box – and that many of us use it on a less than daily basis. With this perspective, I’d like the tool vendors to do the following:

  1. Download upgrades in the background. A lot of applications already do this – they all should.
  2. Inform me there is an update available when I close the tool rather than open it. That way I can allow the update to occur while I’m off doing productive work elsewhere.
  3. Do everything you can to avoid requiring the user to re-boot their computer.
  4. Limit updates to one or two a year. I know product managers want folks on support contracts to feel they are getting their money’s worth – but this only works if my life revolves around that tool – and it doesn’t!

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