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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!

Kipp Bradford

Kipp Bradford is a technology consultant and entrepreneur with a passion for making things. He is the Senior Design Engineer and Lecturer in Engineering at Brown University, where he teaches several engineering design and entrepreneurship courses. Kipp is also on the Technical Advisory Board for Make Magazine.


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