Free, cloud-based development platform; entry to the world of PIC

February 15, 2016 // By Graham Prophet
Way before the world learned that they were called ‘makers’, experimenters and product developers working around the boundary between the professional and semi-pro, even hobbyist, worlds could very often be found using Microchip PIC devices; now, the company has updated the entry path it offers to that group of users – and to the ‘regular professional’ sector that may not be familiar with PICs – to take account of online, cloud-based trends.

The offering is called MPLAB Xpress IDE and+Microchip says it provides the “easiest way to get started with PIC MCUs”. It allows you do a considerable amount of work on a project without even registering (“no downloads, sign-in or setup required to start”) It is an online, cloud-based development environment, the only one, Microchip says, with an integrated Code Configurator. You can pair it with hardware in the form of existing Microchip MPLAB boards, or with any PC plus the new MPLAB Xpress Evaluation Board – numbers of these (see below) are going to be in circulation via free hand-outs at the forthcoming Embedded World Show, or a separate distribution, and if you miss out on those; for under $10.

 

The platform gives access to the entire family of PIC MCUs – initially, all 8-bit variants, with 16- parts to follow later in 2016. The ‘first encounter’ is a free login to the site; that gives access to examples, code libraries and compilation – and to a code configurator (code generator) to set up a chosen target and its peripherals. A free account setup allows you to save work to the cloud, with the option of making work ‘open’ or visible to a community. One of the key points of the offering, Microchip says, is ease of transition to a full professional (subscription) environment. The free compiler does not have all of the optimisations available with the subscription version – but both run when you invoke the free version and the tools tell you how much there is to gain by adding the optimisations. The subscription version is $29.95 per month, and you can use it on an as-needed basis.

Designers can, therefore, create an application, simulate, compile code, programme and debug an MCU in this cloud-based toolset which inherits the most popular features of the MPLAB X IDE. MPLAB Xpress offers a comprehensive feature set, including a library