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Happy Birthday to Us

FPGA Journal Turns Five

Five fabulous years after removing the “press” from “trade-press,” FPGA Journal has pushed out over 5 million e-mails, over 5 hundred original articles, over 5 thousand news stories, and dozens of webcasts through its servers.  You, our audience, have told us often what you like and want – useful, interesting, and entertaining articles; a focus on topics important to engineers; objective and insightful analysis; up-to-date industry news; non-boring webcasts; and a sense of humor.  Well, four out of five isn’t too bad.

Our parent company – Techfocus Media, Inc. has been good to us as well.  Like any good parent, it has supplied us with siblings.  Our first sister publication, Embedded Technology Journal, is turning three this week and is well out of its “toddler” phase.  Editor and industry luminary Jim Turley is leading that publication and bringing some of the best editorial and analysis articles in the embedded space today.  Bryon Moyer is heading our newest addition – IC Design and Verification Journal, and that publication is growing rapidly in a technology area that has been almost completely abandoned by the majority of the trade press. 

Since the early days, we’ve grown and expanded in almost every direction.  Our editorial team has grown to include Bryon and Jim as well as Dick Selwood covering the European beat and Amelia Dalton running the news desk and hosting our incredibly popular “Chalk Talk” webcast series.   Our goal is to inform you of the latest trends in technology, to de-bunk the myths injected by marketing over-enthusiasm, to shed light and insight into the condition and life of the professional engineer, and to make your workday a little more enjoyable by producing material in a style that is fun as well as informative.

Our reach is truly global, with readers in over 100 countries worldwide.  That just seemed like a data point to us until, a few years ago, some guy apparently chained to a desk in a basement in some third-world dictatorship started sending friendly international e-mails to the editor – such as:  “HELP ME!  I WANT TO LEARN FPGA!  CAN YOU SEND DESIGN EXAMPLES PLEASE! I WOULD LIKE UNDERSTANDING OF VHDL AND VERILOG! PLEASE HELP!!”  Our editorial team was of the general opinion that this e-mail showed a serious level of desperation.  We wanted to fly out immediately, find the person in this basement, set him free, cook him a meal, and quietly explain to him that FPGAs, while powerful and flexible, cannot solve all of life’s problems.

They can, however, solve a lot more problems today than five years ago.  In the time since that first FPGA Journal issue (Vol 1 no I – October 2003), we have seen FPGAs grow in capacity, speed and capability while shrinking in cost, power consumption, and footprint.  As the market for FPGAs has broadened, so has our audience.  Our first loyal group of readers was primarily in predictable areas like telecommunications infrastructure – the bread and butter of the FPGA industry at the time.  Today, however, you come to us from virtually every segment of electronic design – mobile devices, medical equipment, industrial automation, wireless and wired communications, consumer electronics, automotive telematics, and a host of other industries where, five years ago, most of the engineers had either never heard of programmable logic or considered it grossly impractical for their particular application.

Our fifth year has been a fast-paced, furious, and fun one for us.  We’ve seen the debut of two new FPGA companies – on opposite ends of the spectrum.  SiliconBlue fired first with super-low-power programmable logic devices aimed at the battery-powered applications where previous generations of FPGAs dared not go.  More recently, Achronix took center stage with the fastest FPGAs ever made – up to 1.5 GHz operation using a novel pico-pipeline architecture.  The big boys have kept busy as well – Xilinx rounded out their highly-diverse selection of Virtex-5 FPGAs, consolidated their ever-widening Spartan-3A brand under one banner, and launched a host of domain-specific initiatives bringing programmable logic into new, rapidly expanding markets.  Altera became the first company to test the FPGA waters below 45nm with their announcement of the upcoming Stratix IV family based on TSMC’s 40nm process technology. 

Actel continued to roll on with their flash-based technology and practically re-branded the company under the “Power Matters” banner.  With flash’s inherent power consumption advantages, they are targeting application areas where FPGAs previously could not compete.  They also fired more innovation back into their military and aerospace offerings, bringing both flash-based FPGAs and DSP capability to those specialized markets.

Lattice Semiconductor continued to struggle from a business perspective while reinforcing their position in low-cost and non-volatile FPGA families.  They’ve made some serious waves with their low-cost FPGA with SerDes, and their flash-on-die non-volatile FPGA families have found a unique place in the market.  QuickLogic has quieted down on the FPGA-ese, choosing instead to brand and sell their programmable logic devices as “CSSPs.”  They have recently made a big play into the mobile device space as well with their “Visual Enhancement Engine” technology aimed at improving the picture and power consumption on mobile displays.

On the tool front, Synplicity was gobbled up by EDA giant Synopsys, but they continue to serve the FPGA market in the same style that they have for the past decade.  Now, Altium, Mentor, and Synopsys remain the three large EDA companies with significant presence and investment in design tool software for FPGAs.  The rest of the EDA industry is either too focused or too unenlightened to see the wisdom of maintaining a strong presence in the fastest growing segment of digital electronics design.  The two big FPGA vendors continue to shoulder the lion’s share of the burden for developing FPGA tools for their customers, while most of the smaller and newer players have adopted a third-party strategy for design tools.  If these new players begin to gain ground in the market, they could have a significant operational advantage by avoiding the overhead of design tool development and by keeping the flexibility to pair with the best of the best in commercial tools. 

In our own house, our Chalk Talk webcast series is on fire.  We’re getting record numbers of viewers for our informative and slightly irreverent take on the venerable webcast, and we’ve got even more scheduled for the coming year.  We’re also planning to debut some new series that… oomph, arghthpl…  OK, the corporate censor just duct-taped my mouth shut.  We’ll have to tell you more when we can.

We also continue to be proud of our position as the greenest publishing company in the industry.  With the growing concern over the environment, we put a high value on keeping a low profile.  Our company has never had an office, never published anything on paper, and holds virtually all its meetings virtually.  As a result, we consume almost no paper; our publications do not have to be delivered on trucks or shipped by air.  Our employees never commute, and our offices have zero emissions and almost zero power consumption.  We take pride in serving you well while being kind to the planet.

FPGA Journal has survived and thrived for the past five years only through the loyalty, support, feedback, and encouragement from our audience and our sponsors.  Without you, we would not be the world’s leading programmable logic publication.  We’d like to thank you for your continued support, and we encourage you to give us your feedback, ideas, and suggestions for making publications that will serve you better.  We plan to continue to innovate in our area just as you innovate in yours.  Our goal is to bring you the most useful, objective, and informative publications on the planet while maintaining an operational efficiency that allows us to grow and serve even more of the engineering community.

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