Flawed firmware

Zune

Anyone following the twittosphere on New Year’s Eve would have noticed a number of tweets reporting that their 30GB Zunes had suddenly ceased to function. The reason subsequently became apparent. There had been a programming glitch. A bug in the internal clock driver. Apparently, the Zune’s firmware could not deal with leap years, like 2008. The problem only lasted a day. By January 1, all was well again. If you let the battery drain and re-start it, your Zune would return to life again. The firmware will be updated to remove the flaw before the next leap year (2012).

So what is firmware? According to Wikipedia, firmware has evolved to mean almost any programmable content of a hardware device, not only machine code for a microprocessor, but also configurations and data for application-specific integrated circuits, programmable logic devices, etc. In other words, your DVD players, mp3 players, TVs, etc. all need firmware to make them work.

What worries me is how we are increasingly losing control of our tech. In days gone by, you pressed a button and a device would work. You were in control. Nowadays, we are the mercy of the firmware in our devices which, if badly programmed, can lead to it becoming a brick through no fault of our own. Anyone who has done a firmware update knows that you wait with some trepidation to see if the update has been successful, or if you’ve bricked your device.

Guess there isn’t an answer here. Just have to hope that programmers learn from their mistakes like this one and give us better, more reliable firmware, and also an easier firmware update route.

Photo credit: ace10414

Related reading: Zune Insider: 30GB Zune issues – official update

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