Get ready for MPLAB Express, throw away your Arduino


Chas from writes:

I credit the maker movement with bringing electronics back from the crusty old and lonely electronics hobby back into the main stream. The Arduino is the micro of choice for this army of makers and I conceded it made sense… you install the IDE, plugged in your board into the USB port and a couple clicks later and you have an LED blinking.. the most exciting blinking LED you’d ever seen in most cases. I stuck with the PIC micros because I didn’t see any need to put back on the training wheels.
I got invited to a conference call earlier this week as they rolled out MPLAB Express. I almost passed the email up as spam, I’m glad I didn’t… a quick half hour later and I was in shock. Microchip is now relevant in the hobbyist realm.. They just leapfrogged over Arduino in usability for the beginner. They just released Microchip MPLAB Express a new, free, online cloud-IDE. Write your code (or pick a sample), press the compile button and the .hex file downloads.. DRAG AND DROP the .hex file on to the dev board. … the dev board looks like a plain flash drive… just drag and drop and the code is automatically programmed to the device… DRAG AND DROP.. brilliant.

Details at homepage.

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  1. Oooh, nice! I, too, went with PIC (because Microchip used to allow anyone to get free samples, and I have about a dozen of them here), which meant MPLAB X. I’ll have to check out MPLAB Express!

  2. $30 per month for the optimized compiler. Ugh. I think we’ve gone over this here before. I think I’ll go for all the new chips Microchip just came out with yesterday. Like the Atmega and Attiny families of Microchip AVRs!


  3. ahaha no. Hell no.

    Not when the compiler is online and has a monthly fee! Why on earth would a hobbyist buy into an ecosystem where they don’t have unlimited access to free (libre and gratis) tools?

    And drag’n’drop programming is, well, meh. mbed has done it forever and is a far more powerful platform, and IMHO DnD is more hassle than the arduino approach of pressing a Download button in the development IDE. Why should I context-switch to a file manager to do the download instead of just pressing a button?

    Apart from the fact that it lacks the primary feature of arduino – the community and huge ecosystem of shields etc – it probably also lacks all the subtly beginner-maker-friendly features like GPIO pins that can source/sink 40mA.

    1. The other big drawback to DnD programming is that it precludes the use of a real debugger. Yea I know arduino doesn’t have a debugger, but ARM does. If you want to really disrupt the maker space, provide a good free (libre, gratis) IDE that includes debugger support.

      1. Well, the cypress psoc compiler is free and does great debugging too. They have some real low cost boards now too. No, is not open source and runs on Windows, but it is free. I think the way it deals with peripheral integration and their API is pretty nice.

    2. The online version is just well an online version of their MPLABX environment. The advantage of the online one is all the versions are the latest available. It has included a code configurator where you can add components to your code (lets call it a fancy library).

      If you dislike the cloud go ahead and download their tools and install them on your PC. All the same functionality (and more) is there. The online version supports exporting to the offline one and vice versa.

      GPIO’s supports sourcing and sinking max 50mA (with a total of 250mA/device or 800mW) (from the datasheet of PIC16F18325). From personal experience they survive a lot more. ALso some pins are 5V tolerant.

  4. This is fail. Online ide, subscription for optimizations. Custom compiler (non-standardc/c++). More expensive boards with slower mcu…

    1. I refuse to use anything that _requires_ a cloud on principle. Hardware I buy must work and be fully usable until it fails or until the end of my life, NOT until the supplier inevitably moves on to greener pastures in a mere few years or so and turns off the servers. Never got into mbed for the same reason, not gonna start now. The not-quite-full-free aspect is just the icing on the cake. Haha, nope.

      1. > I refuse to use anything that _requires_ a cloud on principle.

        PICs don’t _require_ the cloud; you can go download MPLAB for your machine and use it without even an internet connection.

        This is just one more option.

      2. > It still requires windows and Limited compiler (unless you pay for optimisations)

        Since the introduction of MPLABX (2010-ish?) Linux and Mac are fully supported. When freshly installed you can enable the PRO for a couple of days. For those who are a bit innovative you can extend that for longer. BTW the ‘license’ will give you also access to supportteam of MIcrochip. Not that is important for the hobbiest that wants all their shit for free or less, but for companies that is vital.

        According to the manual the compiler is ANSI C compiler. Some oddities of the microcontroller need some extensions, but that is the same for other microcontrollers and their compilers.

  5. I have used Microchip MPLab compilers since 2003. I am a hobbyist/professional programmer and have yet to need the ‘full’ optimization for anything, and I have done some pretty weird stuff with my designs. So, in hobbyist applications, the need for the ‘maximum optimization’ requirement of the paid compilers are not needed…..kinda like the people that spend $250,000 on a Maseratti, then drive it in stop and go Los Angeles traffic…..

    1. Same thing as “fredmatic1” for me here. Sometimes, a few years ago with the PIC32 especially, I needed to check the code that the compiler generated, the opcode sequence generated for the assembler pass. With the free compiler with no maximum optimization, it is true that often it was a little sad to see some time loss but reloading register that did not to have be reloaded. I guess with the full optimization it would have been simplified and double things would have been removed… But no matter what, as far as I remember I’ve never miss memory room or did not fit “in time” for any project at the job or at home for a project.

      >kinda like the people that spend $250,000 on a Maseratti, then drive it in stop and go Los Angeles traffic…..
      Ha! Ha! What a nice funny way to compare the situation! Ha! Ha!

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