Tuesday, February 26, 2008

PIC Programming...

I've been working with Microchip PICs, which appeal to me because of the ability to choose what features I want in a chip by choosing a different chip, and they're super-cheap. But the IDE leaves everything to be desired. They fixed the "C costs $600" problem by including a lite version for free with the latest IDE. Haven't tried it - don't program C. I've been using Pic Basic Pro. First it doesn't integrate into the IDE at all. It has these DLLs that have to be registered every time you boot and no script to do that for you. Then you have to figure out which of the badly named executables you want the IDe to compile with. I don't know, so I had to guess my way through the list. Which one was it? PBPW.exe. As of version 8.0, the Project Wizard, needed to create the 6 or so files required by the IDE to compile and burn to chip, is broken. No error messages say this - oh no, they say "Error Cannot Open .MAC". No problem - I'll copy a project I created in an older version of MPLAB and it worked fine. Next up is the issue of the Oscillator type on your dev board. RC is marked properly. EC, LP and XT aren't. And you have to choose this option every time you write to the chip. No compiler directives here. Then when you go to burn the chip, you can't just select the programmer you want to use. Nope. You have to run the programmer wizard, which has no choices at all, just walks you through what it's doing in eight easy steps. When you finally get to choose the programmer you want to use, MPLAB updates the firmware in the programmer, consuming another few minutes or so.

The Arduino uC boards may not have much going for them - a slow chip with fewer outputs and fixed frequency PWM come to mind - but they do have an easy-to-use programming interface and a free language other than Assembler. It might not seem like much, but the ability to program the thing without special expensive hardware, and the availability of a free language, and the free USB interface and preprogrammed bootloaders clearly appeals to way more people than the PIC does.

It won't be long until PIC goes the way of the 6502 dinosaur. At least that's what they deserve.


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