Firmware vs. Embedded Software: Major Differences and a Look at Use Cases

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What is the difference between firmware and embedded software?

The realm of software is really huge. It encompasses a wide range of applications and programs that fall under different categories.

So, an operating system is software as well as the antivirus you use. Additionally, operating systems that drive appliances like TV are also software.

So, how do you differentiate between the different types of software? More importantly, how do firmware and embedded software differ from each other?

Let’s explore more on the topic.

The Similarities between Firmware and Embedded Software

Before we go into the differences, it pays to know the similarities both applications share. The two falls under the broader category of software and run on microcontrollers.

Additionally, both may power devices like computers, TVs, appliances, and more.

The two terms mean different things but they are often used interchangeably. Moreover, the difference between firmware and embedded software is also fading with each passing day.

However, we will still find out their differences and start right from the beginning.

The Traditional Meaning of Firmware

Firmware is a sub-class of software that resides on hardware. It can function and control the device without the need for an operating system.

Moreover, firmware doesn’t need any drivers or other resources to work. Firmware itself is enough to provide directions to a device or perform predefined tasks.

Traditionally, firmware resides in the EPROM or erasable programmable read-only memory. An EPROM is not the same as ROM or read-only memory as it can be deleted and reprogrammed.

However, the process is really complex and needs the chips to be exposed to UV light. As a result, firmware is permanent and most unchangeable.

In addition, you cannot update firmware and the same version manages your device for life.

Embedded Software is a Far Advanced Technology

Embedded software also resides on hardware but works like an application. When an action calls for embedded software to execute, it utilizes RAM or random access memory to work.

However, embedded software is not designed to carry out the basic functions of a device like firmware. It facilitates advanced features of hardware and can be highly complex.

Additionally, programmers use languages like Java or Python to code embedded software. Moreover, embedded software may not even need an operating system to work.

Today, firmware and embedded software have become synonymous. However, we will still explore the differences that apply to the two types of software.

Differences between Firmware and Embedded Software

We will now dig out the top differences between the two forms of software to paint a clear picture.

1. Firmware is a type of software that lays the foundation for operating systems and apps to work. However, embedded software can work as a standalone application and control a whole system or device.

Additionally, it may or may not include any operating system.

2. Firmware is present in most devices we use daily in our lives. The list includes computers, smartphones, mp4 players, and more.

On the other hand, embedded software controls embedded systems and specialized computing devices. It has far more superior capabilities to drive a device compared to firmware.

3. Firmware has nothing to do with end applications that run on a device. It is involved with the hardware only and performs low-level operations.

Embedded software, consequently, incorporates the end application.

For example, firmware enabled older TVs to convert incoming video signals into RGB values for each pixel. It is also present in TV remotes and allows you to change channels, volume, and more.

Smart TVs also come with firmware to perform low-level tasks. They also have an operating system like Android to drive different operations.

In addition, smart TVs are packed with apps that are pre-loaded on your system. These apps enable you to take advantage of advanced and more interactive features that make a TV smart.

Most importantly, these apps are all embedded software, which you might not be aware of.

4. Firmware was typically stored in EPROM. You needed to code the software into the circuits that would be hidden away inside the device.

Additionally, changing firmware or updating it was a headache or even impossible. Even if someone tried, the effort would not be cost-effective for commercial purposes.

Therefore, firmware remained unchanged even if technology has advanced by leaps and bounds over the years.

In comparison, embedded software resides in flash memories. They may be located outside or within a microcontroller and there is no set rule.

Flash memories are easy to manipulate and not permanent. As a result, you can update embedded software to offer newer features and functions.

This is a necessity today as embedded software powers a range of devices and machinery. Even autonomous cars use embedded software to find their way and avoid obstacles.

From time to time, the manufacturers release updates that make for a safer and more pleasant drive. So, the impermanent nature of embedded software makes sense for businesses in tech.

Do note that these cars and other devices may also contain firmware to serve basic functions.

Firmware and Embedded Software Go Hand in Hand

Devices and appliances have become sophisticated today. They don’t just fulfill basic purposes like adding numbers on a calculator.

Instead, they drive innovative technologies that impact lives and the world. Therefore, firmware and embedded software exist side by side in today’s world. You will find the two sub-classes of software in most modern gadgets, whether it’s a smartphone or a smart TV.

If you are developing a product, chances are you will need to code both firmware and embedded software. Wizard can be your partner in success and help you achieve your objectives and delight your customers.

Get in touch with us today to discuss your project.

Final Thoughts

The difference between firmware and embedded software is fading with time. Firmware controls the basic functions of a device while embedded software deals with high-level functions. Additionally, firmware is programmed into EPROM while embedded software is in flash memory. Both are required for most devices to function.