I asked Rhines if he could envision a situation where the FPGA companies eventually stop providing their own tools, instead relying on third-party vendors like Mentor and Synopsys Inc. to sell more into this market. Rhines paused for a moment, then said, "I don't know. It's possible."
This is an area that I am just delving into, and I sense there is much to learn. But my first thought is that such a transition would be difficult. If, for example, Xilinx suddenly stopped offering tools, it would seem that it would give an Altera an instant competitive advantage and an incentive to keep them coming.
This week, at the Synopsys Users Group event in Santa Clara, Calif., Chairman and CEO Aart de Geus was asked several questions about the company's plans for Synplicity, the FPGA tool specialist it acquired last year.
De Geus said at least in the near term Synplicity would remain a separate business unit and that its Synplify Premier and other products would remain standalone.
But de Geus wouldn't rule out rolling Synplicity technologies into other Synopsys products in the future, saying the acquisition had brought side benefits to the tools such as alignment with IP and verification.
"We don't want to go to the mega solution where everything is put in and nothing is quite as good as before," de Geus said.
Gary Meyers, vice president and general manager of the Synplicity business group (he was Synplicity's CEO prior to the acquisition), also got into the act. Meyers said the acquisition has brought a number of advantages.
"Being part of Synopsys, it's easier for us to do work hand and hand with other groups to make sure that IP goes cleanly through the FPGA flow," Meyers said.
One attendee voiced a complaint about Synplicity support following the acquisition, saying it used to be a one-on-one situation but now can take months to get issues resolved. De Geus didn't speak to that issue on stage. He told the attendee they should discuss it following his address.
It would seem that third-party FPGA tools are on the minds of users and something that warrants scrutiny going forward.