The firmware of everything

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As we move into a world where ‘everything’ becomes connected in one way or another (The Internet of Everything or the Internet of Things), I find myself often wondering about firmware and how these ‘things’ get updated.

As we know, firmware is an integral part of everything in the technology field. Firmware is essentially the software that runs our electronic devices. Think of it similar to an operating system. Firmware runs our wireless routers, our printers, our smart fridges, our smart thermostats, etc. I was reminded of the importance of firmware last week when a Xerox printer required a firmware update before it could recognize print commands from a new Windows 8.1 workstation. But if we look at things honestly, how often do we upgrade firmware in our devices ? I would argue that the answer is: almost never.

Seriously, think about it. When was the last time you upgraded the firmware in your smart fridge ? Smart thermostat ? Printer ? IP desktop phone ?

We’re just not used to having to ‘update’ software in these things. In the past, when these products weren’t “smart”, we obviously had nothing to update. When we switch those products out and they become “smart”, we simply don’t think about the need to update them. We all know that computers need updates, but fridges ? It’s true though, even fridges require updates if they’re running firmware. Firmware updates can range from patching security holes to resolving software bugs.

Unless we all start becoming accustomed to updating firmware regularly and checking for new versions, manufacturers will need to figure out ways to automatically push new firmware to devices. Smartwatches are a great example of this. My Android smartphone pushes out new firmware directly to my smartwatch, because the smartwatch management software on my smartphone has been instructed to do so. These types of ‘auto-update’ features are very important, because they force these updates to happen instead of relying on users to go out and find them.

The firmware of everything is becoming more and more important as more products get connected via data networks. We need to find ways to ensure that all these products are getting the updates they need, with as little user required intervention as possible.

Author

Martin Lehner

Martin Lehner is an technology professional working for an IT services firm in Whitehorse, Yukon (Canada). He has been working in the technology field for over a decade. With a degree in Business Admin and numerous industry certifications, Martin leads a team of IT professionals that provide third party support for clients. Originally starting a company to offer web development services, Martin quickly realized that clients wanted the entire spectrum of technology services. When Martin is not at work (which is not often, since his company offers 24/7 support), he is busy at home spending time with his family.

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2 Comments

  1. David Pfeiffer July 26, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Well-written article, and very relevant in this day and age.

    Pablos Holman pointed out at a Tedx Midwest conference talk that as more and more devices become “PC’s” (as he put it), they inherit all the security issues of PC’s as well. As firmware and micro operating systems are implemented into all of our devices, we are suddenly required to update these devices to fix bugs in the system and patch security issues.

    I think too few people ask themselves if it’s worth it.

    • Martin Lehner July 27, 2014 at 12:13 pm

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

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