In the age of the Internet and netcentric computing, where engineers and suppliers are scattered around technology centers throughout the world, and where such centers are so congested that it is difficult to easily interact, something more is needed: virtual online Silicon Valleys.
That's how Alan Steinberg, president and chief executive officer of DevelopOnline Corp. (Tempe, Ariz.), sees the future. "We are in the early stages of a new, connected computing environment in which the pace of product introductions is moving so fast that any delay could mean the difference between success or failure."
One reason the computer and semiconductor industries have moved to global dominance in less than 25 years was the development early on of "proximity centers," such as California's Silicon Valley, and similar geographical foci elsewhere in the world. Engineers, developers, hardware and software companies and providers of services have been able to easily interact and collaborate, quickly bringing together all of the elements essential to moving to market with a product. An engineer could walk down the street, or drive a few miles away, meet with a supplier of some key component, or have lunch with another engineer or developer, where they could exchange ideas and brainstorm a product to completion.
According to Steinberg, the Internet and the World Wide Web will provide the virtual equivalent of Silicon Valley. With the appropriate mechanisms and tools, he said, the work environment of the developer on a wide variety of embedded and net-centric systems will change drastically in the future. It will move from one in which individual engineers work in geographic isolation, even when they are located in the same city or corporate campus complex, to an online collaborative environment. "Even though separated by thousands of miles, everyone will still be able to work closely with the all of the basic constituencies necessary to a project," he said.
Diverse companies and organizations are attempting to build such collaborative environments, he said, but on a piecemeal, company-by-company, platform-by-platform and tool-by-tool basis. Given time, he believes, the Web would eventually have led to creation of meeting places for collaborative activity.
But the need is now, and so Steinberg and his co-founders at DevelopOnline- James Kearns, vice president of business development; Rich Andrade, strategic alliance director; John Pokorney, chief financial officer; and Mike McGowan, director of marketing-have decided to give the concept a jump start. Intel Corp.'s first spinoff company, DevelopOnline, is an all-encompassing effort to provide a hardware- and software-agnostic online development and collaborative environment for software programmers and hardware developers.
|Alan Steinberg believes the Internet and the World Wide Web could be the virtual equivalent of Silicon Valley for developing products. |
"It all started when we were all at Intel and gotten an assignment from Craig Barrett, president and CEO, to figure out how to use the Internet to increase our design wins," he said. "It was not that we were not getting plenty of queries or losing to the competition. It was a problem of execution. In our analysis of the people who came to us, many of them were not able to pull all of the resources together in time to meet a market opportunity."
As the computer industry moves to the vastly accelerated "Internet time," he said, developers are finding it difficult to pull all of the resources together in a timely enough manner and at the appropriate cost to allow them to reach the prototype stage. "What we felt was necessary was some way to quickly pull together all the elements-boards, RTOSes, tools, processors, peripheral logic, SoC design tools, software debuggers, hardware simulators and debuggers-as well as provide a way for all the participants to come together easily and collaboratively," he said.
Although the founders come from Intel, and the company is funded by Intel, the new Web site they have developed-www.DevelopOnline.com-is totally agnostic as far as hardware and tools are concerned. "And while ultimately we hope to be operating-system agnostic, initially we have focused on the Linux open-source environment, where such an offering is needed and will be accepted readily and will provide a setting within which we can build the development infrastructure," he said. " In the open-source environment we do not have to start from ground zero, educating and convincing the developer base, nor waste our energies on the creation of development resources that are already available."
Linux has a user base of over 12 million, but it is fragmented into thousands of separate communities, he noted. Because of this, electronic product manufacturers in the embedded and net-centric space have neither the time nor money to gain access to all of the Linux communities. "By the same token, open-source communities have limited access to manufacturers and their platforms," he said, "forcing them to reinvent the wheel with each new design idea. By the time they locate the tools and the capital to turn their paper napkin sketch into an actual application or product, they may have missed the market window."
While DevelopOnline is providing a complete package of building blocks and resources built around Linux and open source, he said, the company has made its Web site open enough and flexible enough to allow developers to use the operating system and tools of their choice. "Even though we are advocates of open source we do not impose any obligations on a developer on our site to do anything that requires such demands as making the code developed [there] open source also, or that the developer give it back to the community," said Steinberg.
"The tools that we are making available initially are just the fairly basic open-source GNU tools, compilers, assemblers, debuggers, and so on, as well as distributions of several varieties of Linux from some of the embedded real-time providers, each of which run on each hardware and board platform."
The company is urging third-party vendors and operating system (OS) vendors to add all sorts of other tools over the next few months: run-time error checking, modeling tools; as well as more sophisticated debugging tools-profilers, code analysis, code instrumentation; and instrumentation for space optimization and performance. The company currently has alliances with Lineo Inc. (Salt Lake City, Utah), MontaVista Software Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.) and Red Hat Inc. (Research Triangle Park, N.C.) for their tools as well as with Motorola Inc. for its Metroworks subsidiary's tool chain and is in the process of Web enabling all of those tools for access via the network.
"Basically, because of its hardware and OS agnosticism, we are using Java to provide the common front-end interface and drivers to link all of these proprietary third-party tools to the Web," said Steinberg. "We are also now in the process of adding a new service from Sun called JavaStart that allows the applets to run on the server somewhat like in the remote procedure call in Unix and the Citrix model but without the constant back-and-forth traffic."
"We don't want to be tool developers ourselves, so we will work with tool providers using our expertise at Web enabling the tools for use on our site," said Steinberg. "The name of the game for the computer industry in the future will be enabling collaboration, remotely over the Web, between designers, between tool vendors and hardware platform vendors, between users and tool suppliers and platform builders. That is the only way we will all be able to keep up the shorter development cycles, faster time-to-market and shorter product lifetimes."