embedded software boot camp

Freescale customer service

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015 by Nigel Jones

I have to admit to having a soft spot for Freescale microprocessors. The first micro I ever used was a Motorola 6809 and for the first few years of my career I worked exclusively on 6800’s, 68HC11’s and 68000 processors.  Times changed and I largely moved away from the product range, although I did return periodically as projects dictated. Well such a project has recently come up. The project requires me to make some modifications to an existing code base and as is often the case, the original compiler and its license file have been lost to the winds of time. Accordingly, I downloaded an evaluation copy from Freescale’s web site and got to work.  After convincing myself that there were no significant issues with moving to the latest compiler version, it was time to purchase a license. And as the joke goes, that’s when the trouble started…

Freescale offers various versions of the compiler, and in addition offers various optional software components that can be purchased. Trying to work out which components I needed to purchase was incredibly hard. Anyway, after considerable time, I came up with what I thought was needed and had my client purchase the requisite licenses. Downloading and installing the licenses was ridiculously complicated (as in it took about an hour to wade through all the documents), but I eventually got there. I then invoked CodeWarrior and got a wonderfully obtuse licensing error message that seemed to be saying I needed to purchase an additional component. However the component wasn’t for sale on Freescale’s website…

Accordingly I called customer support. Here’s the gist of the conversation:

Freescale: This is is unusual. It shouldn’t do that.

Me: OK.

Freescale: We don’t offer support for licensing issues over the phone. You’ll have to send an email to technical support detailing the problem.

Me: OK. How long is the response time?

Freescale: 48 – 72 hours.

Me: Do I have this right. Your product that I’ve paid for doesn’t work as advertised, you don’t offer telephone support for licensing issues, you require me to send you an email and it will then take you up to 72 hours to get me an answer?

Freescale: Yes.

I’m not sure what planet Freescale resides on, but this level of service simply doesn’t comport with what’s needed in the embedded space today. I think I understand now why I see so few Freescale designs. Is my experience unusual or is this the norm for Freescale today?

14 Responses to “Freescale customer service”

  1. Wally says:

    Your experience comes as no surprise.

    Freescale were (if not still) owned by private equity and went through a massive period of slash and burn for staff. At that tiem customer service fell through the floor (this would be around 8 years ago), and they became more difficult to deal with. Prices went up, and things like compilers needed to be purchased instead of being given away (monetise everything you can).

    Around the same time at a place where I worked, Freescale announced dropping the micro we used in everything and which sold around 200,000 pcs / year in something like 50 different products. So we had to purcahse a lot of last-time stock, and redesign EVERY SINGLE product. This cost a fortune – and we took everything over to ST. Freescale were utterly unhelpful and worse… the part that was being discontinued is still available!!

    These experiences lead me to never ever contemplate dealing with Freescale again. When they were Motorola they were great to deal with. Now, not so.

    • Jeff Gros says:

      Wow! That is an incredible story Wally.

      Sort of reminds me of the whole Stellaris / Tiva thing with Texas Instruments.

      Texas Instruments sold ARM M3 parts in the Stellaris line. Then suddenly they dropped the Stellaris line and only sold ARM M4 under the name of Tiva.

      If someone had existing designs using the M3 products, they were told to move to the M4. The M4 is great, but I don’t need all the functionality of the M4, or the price associated with it. Why would anyone completely redesign a product to put in a more expensive part for features they don’t need?

      Its equivalent to telling all their M3 customers that they no longer wanted their business.

      Speaking of ST, they’ve got pretty good prices on their ARM parts. I’m not a fan of their timers though. That whole “free” compare interrupt on timer overflow, even if the compare register is set above the period register, is really annoying.

      • Wally says:

        Jeff – that little exercise with Freescale cost my employer over $6 million, and took 2 years. That excludes the opportunity cost because half the engineering group were working on keeping the business going, instead of growing it with new products. Total cost to the business would be somewhere between $12 and $20 million. (US$)

        Freescale rubbed salt into the would be having a sales rep turn up to give us a lecture on how much better off we’d be when we made the changeover. The only time in my life, ever, where I have terminated a meeting by standing up and saying “I have heard enough, it is time you left before I get really rude and unpleasant”. The local distributor accompanying the sales rep was just about shaking in his boots he was so terrified of the consequences…. Which came to pass… he lost the rep account too. So the distributor lost a lot of money from a money-for-old-rope supply arrangement.

        • Dave says:

          Hey Jeff, that Stellaris issue was due to a flaw in the flash memory. They could not guarantee more than 100 erase/program cycles. We learned of this after a lengthy negotiation between TI and a couple other vendors. We chose TI because they had a free RTOS and tool chain. Soon after we committed, we learned of the flash limitations and were told to design it out.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is very disappointing to read and not how we intend to support our customers. I will be in contact with you to get you the appropriate support.

    Brandon Tolany

  3. RobotJosh says:

    I’m not sure freescale is serious with their support. They have a good field rep who honestly tries to help us but I feel like the support employees are recent grads, not qualified, or just not very effective. I don’t bother with trying to get online support anymore but last time I did I had 5 or 6 issues that were simply ignored. I see them give support to beginners who have simple issues but they often ignore the complicated stuff, the only kind of stuff I ever need help with! I complained about this to our field rep and then got a short burst of activity related to some of my issues but nothing helpful. With freescale you just have to figure it out yourself.

    This is not a unique problem, TI support is worse, and no mcu vendor I know of has an acceptable level of support.

  4. Lundin says:

    It should be mentioned that Freescale’s support for technical questions regarding their actual products is pretty good. It might take a day or two to get a reply, but you get a detailed reply from an actual expert of that particular product, and not from some generic support monkey that just tries to get rid of you. I could name a lot of semiconductor manufacturers with downright awful support: in fact it seems to be the norm.

    As for their custom licensing for Codewarrior, it is a complete nightmare, and has been so forever. It is something Freescale inherited from Metrowerks after they purchased that company and the Codewarrior compilers. I went through a similar license fiasco during the Metrowerks era, some 10 years ago. Codewarrior is Eclipse-based nowadays anyhow, so there’s no way anyone with a desire of being productive would want to come near it…

  5. Frank says:

    My experiences with Freescale have been a bit different from everyone here.

    For licensing, there are 2 ways to get past this problem:
    1. Contact your Field Service Engineer or Salesperson. I have had both of them tell me that if I get stonewalled with support to call them. I have literally had them tell me “You shouldn’t have to put up with that.”
    2. Call one of Freescale’s licensing specialists. Granted, the first time you go through this, you won’t have this name. But once your licensing issue arrives on his/her desk, it’s fixed in a hour. Believe it or not, they actually want your money. And if you think this is bad, try purchasing a license for an IBM Rational product. Trust me, they make everyone else look fantastic.

    As for customer service, I usually have software questions, particularly about MQX. If it’s really difficult, I email my FSE. Otherwise I just attack the problem myself. How they work is usually similar to my first experience with them. I email a question that says “Why am I having issue X?” Cue a week of back and forth emails, usually only 1 per day. After a week I get a response “We have verified that you have issue X.” No shinola, Sherlock! And this is why I just ask my FSE.

  6. Wally says:

    My experiences with TI have been the reverse of RobotJosh – my region has a very good TI technical rep, so if the local disty FAE can’t work something out, I go straight to the TI tech rep and he’s onto his contacts. Sometimes answers to obscure questions can take a week or so, but there is always an answer. It probably helps to have a good an ongoing relationship direct into the TI business.

    Distribution tends to have its place – for getting parts and scheduling production and so on. And the FAEs can usually sort out some of the more simple questions. But I haven’t had simple questions about micros for many years – its always off in the obscure end of things now, which requires a deeper level of support.

    Re what Frank says – agree about IBM/Rational! Mind you, I found a good local sales rep makes all that pain go away too.

  7. Aaron says:

    In my history as an embedded engineer, I have done one Freescale design. Our company has learned the hard way not to continuously shift processors and toolchains from project to project as the ramp-up time for each one doesn’t pay except on large projects. The Freescale project left an especially sore memory. Perhaps that wouldn’t have been the case had I already had experience with them, but I doubt it.

    I simply remember Freescale’s version of CodeWarrior being the biggest, slowest, most cumbersome of them all. It had a lot of built in features and built most of the code base for you. Of course I used that since this was a “2-week” project and all I had to was simple monitoring of a button and turning things on and off, plus of course go as low power as possible.

    We were remiss to find that even on an 8k part (I think it was 8k) we had gone over our code space. This absolutely astounded me so I started researching the map file and learned of the code bloat that is the Freescale libraries. On further inspection, I realized the entire floating point library was in there, something we didn’t need at all. After extensive search of the Freescale provided code, I found only one place that was using floats. It was to calculate the clock rate at startup. I tried to refactor it but started running into other problems and breaking things, so I backed off and left it alone.

    I remember we had a little meeting to decide what to do about the problem. I said it wasn’t worth it to rebuild everything from the ground up on a platform I know nothing about. On a bigger project, maybe, but not on something with a 2-week budget that was already blown getting the toolchain working. Nor was I able to do anything about the egregious code bloat without significant research effort. We decided it wasn’t worth the developer effort to resolve the issue and modified the BOM to use the next biggest part for the design.

    Only my experience with QNX was worse.

  8. Karibe says:

    May be things will change since they were bought by NxP, the dutch seems to have a different appraoch

  9. Scott says:

    I’m a year late to the discussion, but I have to say that things seem to be getting even worse since the NXP merger. I’ve been working with Motorola parts since the 6800 and in the 14 years I’ve been doing embedded systems programming professionally I’ve stuck with Motorola, then Freescale, and now NXP.

    Support now is primarily through their community forums. The forums are monitored primarily by entry-level support engineers, almost exclusively from east Asia and eastern Europe in my experience, and language problems are rampant.

    Datasheets are a mess, and it’s extremely hard to find certain documents. I was trying to find a datasheet on the MK02FN64VLF10 and discovered that it didn’t exist in their documentation index. The document was there, and if you found the right PDF you’d see that it applied to that part, but the only other mention of that part number was in a selector guide.

    You might think that the MK22FN512 and the MK22FN1M0 (by the convention pretty much everyone has used for decades) would be nearly identical parts differing only in memory size, but you’d be wrong. There’s nothing obvious in the docs to compare the two, but the 512 is actually a newer part than the 1M, and adds flex memory, HSRUN mode, an internal 48 MHz oscillator for crystal-less USB operation, and I think an extra DAC. The 1M apparently actually belongs to the K21 family, not K22. The parts seem to be pin-compatible but they’re not supported by the same development boards.

    I got so frustrated that I wrote a (very polite) letter to the CEO of NXP, covering the documentation issues, the sudden abandonment of CodeWarrior for Kinetis without warning right after I purchased a new license (forcing me onto the incomplete, ugly, and less mature Kinetis Design Studio), and some other frustrations.

    Amazingly, I actually got a useful response from a manager. They conducted a review and found about a hundred parts that weren’t listed in the documentation index. I’ve gone back and forth with that manager a few times on various issues and he at least seems receptive and assures me that my concerns are valid and that they’re working to address them.

    I’m still doing my best to stay away from KSDK and the more volatile and immature tools for now. I’ve picked a few Kinetis parts to replace the HCS08 and ColdFire parts I’m using now and I’ll stick with the tools I have and see if things settle down later.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.