This article is a summary of a three-hour discussion at Stanford University in September 2019 among the authors. It has been written with combined experiences at and with organizations such as Zilog, Altera, Xilinx, Achronix, Intel, IBM, Stanford, MIT, Berkeley, University of Wisconsin, the Technion, Fairchild, Bell Labs, Bigstream, Google, DIGITAL (DEC), SUN, Nokia, SRI, Hitachi, Silicom, Maxeler Technologies, VMware, Xerox PARC, Cisco, and many others. These organizations are not responsible for the content, but may have inspired the authors in some ways, to arrive at the colorful ride through FPGA space described here.
Field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) have been hitting a nerve in the ASIC community since their inception. In the mid-1980s, Ross Freeman and his colleagues bought the technology from Zilog and started Xilinx, targeting the ASIC emulation and education markets. (Zilog came out of Exxon, since in the 1970s people were already afraid that oil would run out in 30 years, which is still true today). In parallel, Altera was founded with similar technology at its core.