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By Jack Ganssle

Keil Buys ARM, Intel

Published 11/09/2005

This week Keil Software, Inc, the company that makes compilers, simulators and debuggers for the 8051, C16x and ARM processors announced they purchased ARM Holdings plc (designers of the popular 32 bit CPU) and Intel Corporation, original purveyor of the 8051 plus lesser-known processors like the Pentium, Xeon, etc.

A Keil spokesperson noted: "These acquisitions further strengthen our ability to support our customers. By providing both the tools and the silicon we can insure the utmost compatibility in all phases of the development process."

"Though Intel doesn't sell 8051s anymore, they have unparalleled fab capability plus deep knowledge of microcontrollers."

The spokesperson acknowledged they plan to sell Intel's 32 bit business to AMD and retool the fabs to crank out 8051s using 65 nanometer geometry. A new campaign will encourage OEMs to brand their embedded products with "Keil Inside" labels.

On a more serious note. ARM bought Keil last week. Keil is one of the great embedded tool companies. For nearly 20 years they've been a major force in the 8051 business, and now support other architectures as well. Their simulation environment is simply breathtaking.

The company's press release (http://www.keil.com/pr/article/1085.htm) states they'll "[continue] to support our 8051 and C16x compilers within the uVision environment." And I'm sure they will. But "support" could mean a lot of things.

Keil is a relatively small outfit. I know nothing of their financials, but having operated a tool company in this excruciating-difficult market can imagine that with more cash they could innovate even more. That has got to be good for consumers of ARM tools.

The companies aren't saying what their new strategy will be. Is it possible the new owner will discontinue or deprecate the non-ARM tools? We saw something similar happen when Motorola bought Metrowerks. Certainly, the revenue stream from a small operation like Keil can't be that important to ARM. Cutting off all 8051 support won't have much financial impact, and frees the company's developers to focus more on ARM tools.

ARM has announced new forays into microcontroller versions of their processor, clearly a move to seize some of the venerable 8051 market. How does one both support a market and attempt to take it over?

I know the Keil people, and they're passionate embedded folks, smart and fun to be around. The 8051 is in their blood. But the decisions will be made by people who live and breathe ARM, whose compensation packages and bonuses stem from increased sales of the ARM design.

We'll see what the future brings. I sure hope that includes Keil's traditional commitment to 8051 and C16x developers, with support of new variants and new toolchain features.

What do you think? Is this acquisition good for 8051/C16x developers? For ARM developers?