Blinking an LED and transmitting text to a serial terminal is not the most exciting thing in the world, but it’s very cool to breathe life into a balky computer, even at the most basic level. Also, I have worked with enough development tools to know that it can be a lot of work going from the first build to basic function. Many vendors, like National Instruments, Texas Instruments, and others, have recognized the value of making a good first impression, while preserving all the power and sophistication available to the user. I do understand that ease of use can be hard to achieve, especially with complex, powerful tools. I own a small Sherline CNC mill that I built up with 3-phase brushless motors, a custom motor controller, and optical limit switches. It was a fun project, especially building the machine and seeing it run for the first time. I use it much less frequently than I would like, but it’s been very handy for many of my projects. The mill is powerful enough for small projects, and simple enough that I can ignore it for several months without forgetting how to use it. I also have a little experience running large industrial CNC mills. I could make a lot of cool devices if I had a 5-axis commercial CNC machine, but using the machine effectively would require a substantial and continuous investment of time. Given what can go wrong, improper operation resulting from infrequent practice can be disastrous.
I’ve experienced a similar comparison between Windows Embedded CE and other prototyping and development tools I’ve worked with. For simple embedded projects, I use a wide variety of tools, from Arduino to ARM and others. I like to program in C or C++, using assembly only when I have to. I have been known to slip uLinux into projects when I can. These systems are like the Sherline CNC mill. They have limitations, yet are valuable from an ease-of-use perspective. Windows Embedded CE is more like the large industrial CNC mill – very powerful once time has been invested.
Now about those XBees, check out the Microsoft SPARK site for more!