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What is Embedded Systems Software?

Author: Jessica Slater | April 26, 2022

A circuit board with embedded systems software

What is Embedded System Software?

Embedded system software is a type of software that is used to operate electronic devices that are not traditional computers, or non-PC. It uses a microchip or another application that sits on top of the chip to control the specific functions for the device. Unlike a traditional computer, embedded software design is not transferable between devices and has fixed hardware capabilities and requirements. Embedded system software is made exclusively for a particular device depending on the device’s specified processing and memory restrictions.

What is the Difference Between Firmware vs. Embedded Software?

Even though the terms are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between embedded system software and firmware. Firmware is a type of embedded software, but not all embedded software is firmware. Embedded software controls a specific function of the overall device, while firmware is a minimalistic operating system instructing the control, monitoring, and data manipulation functions of the device. Firmware is usually developed along with the hardware for the product, then embedded software is developed to command the finished device or system. The added complexity of advancing embedded software presents new and different challenges from more basic firmware.

What is the Difference Between Embedded Systems vs. Embedded Software?

Even though their names are similar, embedded system software and what’s referred to as embedded systems are not the same thing. The embedded system is made of all the hardware in the product that comprises the structure for how the software is embedded into a system. This includes things like central processing units, flash memory devices, timers, power supply circuits, and serial communication ports. The hardware elements of the embedded system are determined early in the design process. Then the embedded system software is designed to control the device using that particular hardware configuration.

Examples of Devices Running Embedded Software

Embedded system software is  an essential part of devices made with circuit boards and computer chips including consumer, industrial, automotive, aerospace, medical, commercial, telecom, and military technology. Embedded software systems help you every day with traffic control systems in traffic lights and timing and automation systems found in smart home products. They can also be found in security cameras with motion detectors, image processing systems in medical imaging equipment, and fly-by-wire control systems in aircraft.

While there are many uses of embedded system software, each device shares the same design features and characteristics, including:

  • Task specificity All embedded system software is designed to do a specific thing throughout their usable lifetime, and that’s it.
  • Efficiency All embedded system software is high efficiency. The hardware and software must work together. The software should never exceed the capacity of the hardware and the hardware should never exceed the minimum requirements of the software.
  • Reliability and stability Embedded system software is designed to be highly stable and reliable. They must perform their task consistently, both in function and time, for as long as the device they support lasts. At Sterling PLM, we feel strongly that we have a powerful weapon in embedded systems product development. With Polarion, we can help you automate, maintain, and monitor all your requirements in one place so you can see how they connect, interact, and cross-link to each other to develop quality embedded software with the industry’s highest efficiency and ROI. If we can help you with your regulated product development process as you develop embedded system software, please contact us today.


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