Last week Microchip stepped into the world of web IDEs with their new MPLAB Xpress tool. If you are familiar with systems like ARM’s MBED, this is about the same but for PIC microcontrollers.
Microchip is the 800-pound gorilla of the microcontroller world and any changes to their tool set is big news. MPLAB Xpress is just such a seismic change, it takes features of the MPLAB X IDE and the MPLAB Code Configurator 3.0 and puts them online for free. As with similar online IDEs there is 10GB of storage space, code examples, community groups, and sharing features.
Since MPLAB Xpress is a Java based tool it can run on just about any OS, browser, or even mobile device if the CPU power is there. It supports directly connected hardware just like the desktop version of the IDE and can do most if not all of the debugging and profiling tricks too. Just about the only thing Xpress won’t do is some code optimizations found in the more advanced traditional compilers. If you want that in web-based form there is MPLAB Xpress Pro for a $30/month subscription.
The microcontroller world is quite different from the larger processor world and compiler versions can make a big difference to coders when optimizing for small memory spaces. With a web-based IDE and compiler, one is not assured that what you stared a project on will be there when you finish a project, not to mention revising it a year or two later. For this Microchip has committed to having the last 10 revisions of their compiler available on the Xpress platform and seemed quite open to extending that count if needed. This will go a long way to assuaging many programmer’s fears about compiler versioning.
MPLAB Xpress is in the process of adding features to the initial set, there are more to come. At the moment only the 8-bit XC8 compiler is online with the X16 version coming soon followed by the XC32. Similarly the code examples and templates are only from Microchip at the moment but this will change in short order once people start sharing code and it gets verified. One of the few things missing is selective sharing but that too is coming, it will make Xpress a lot more team friendly.
If all of this sounds interesting you can give it a try for free without even signing up for an account or having a dev board. Just go to MPLABXpress.microchip.com and give it a shot. If you want storage, community features, and all the rest, you just have to sign up for a free account, not exactly a high bar. Even with the ‘coming soon’ features, MPLAb Xpress seems like a very strong offering that brings online IDEs and debugging to the PIC microcontoller world. Add in access to the latest compilers and optional code optimizers, plus an active community, and you have to ask why anyone would use the traditional route. By the end of the year the answer will probably be that very few will.S|A