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Understanding Firmware

You may be familiar with the term “firmware” since it is commonly related to mobile phones but did you know that this term—and the technology aspects it describes—have only been around for the last few decades?  As a matter of fact, Ascher Opler first coined the phrase in an article published in Datamation only about fifty years ago.  Opler aimed to describe the contents of a writable control store—a small, specialized type of high-speed memory—that would contain writable microcode.  This microcode, according to Opler, would define and implement an instruction set in a computer in a way that could be reloaded with the potential to modify or specialize instructions for the central processing unit to execute.

Since then, firmware has become quite commonplace. Obviously, technology has evolved much in just the last fifty years and, of course, it will continue to evolve.  Indeed, more people rely on technology than ever before, and the technology we use today is far more complex than it was fifty years ago.


Personal computers were, until only recently, the most complex piece of technology that most people would use on a daily basis. It was also very likely the only piece of technology you used which was reliant on firmware.  In fact, your computer’s firmware is probably just as important as the very operating system it sends commands to for execution.

As such, it is quite necessary for your computer to constantly receive firmware updates.  These updates are important because the microcodes your firmware needs to operate must remain up to date to keep the operating system running at its best.  These updates keep the operating system current with all the latest information and security that is available both for its own good and for the purposes of running other programs.


Today, of course, we use all kinds of technology, mobiles from brands like apple and Samsung, Security cameras from brands like Hikvision. Thus, it would be very easy to simply attribute your home phone or tablet as the most commonly used firmware-reliant device in the world.  While that is probably true, we can find firmware in everything from GPS navigation devices to home security cameras to smart speakers.  You can even find firmware embedded into the technology of automobiles, as they are now web-connected and ready to communicate with other devices or utilize other built-in features like rear cameras, weather sensors, and more.

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