Next-Gen IDE

We released our first Windows IDE around 1996, V3 of our compilers. It was one of the earliest Windows GUI for an embedded compiler at the time. The look and feel of the IDE remained generally the same up through V5 of the tool release. Around 2000, we released the V6 compilers and rewrote the IDE to be fully 32-bit. The V7 IDE, released around 2005, has been largely the same as the V6 look-and-feel wise.

For various reasons, we believe it is time to rethink our IDE strategy. “More pretty” is always a Good Thing. “More code assistant features” is definitely a Good Thing. Debugger integration is, likewise, a Good Thing. (Of course our core competence and focus must still be the compiler: we MUST have excellent code quality. After all, our customers ultimately depend on it.)

The solution that seems to make the most sense would involve leveraging a 3rd party product. The non-free ($$-wise) products would add cost to our end users (a potential Bad Thing.) If we look at the free ($$) solutions, there are really only two choices: Eclipse and Visual Studio. Eclipse is still too slow and bloated, and it’s getting more complex by the day. So, that leaves Visual Studio.

In fact, Microsoft now has something called Visual Studio Express, which is free to download and use, and it appears that we can extend it to integrate our compilers with it. By leveraging VS Express, we get Intellisense, code folding, and all the modern editor, browsing and project managment features. Of course, it is still not a trivial task to base our next-gen IDE on it, but the cost will be significantly less than rolling our own solution from scratch.

All in all, sounds like a good solution to many of our needs – and our customer’s. πŸ™‚

// EDIT: I just got words from Microsoft that the Express version is not extensible. We will need to consider this data. A possibility is to continue to support the current IDE as the light weight solution, and provide a Visual Studio Shell extension as the premium solution. The VSX shell will be available in the base product, but will require the users to purchase Visual Studio. A good number of users already use Visual Studio so it may still be a good way to go.

// richard & karisu

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7 Responses to Next-Gen IDE

  1. Barry Callahan says:

    Interesting. I can certainly understand the desire to use a 3rd party IDE. After all, you guys are a compiler shop.

    I’ve never really looked too closely at VS Express, as I already have Visual Studio installed.

    I wonder though. If you were able to integrate your compilers into VS Express, would you also be able to integrate them into the full VS?

  2. Rich Webb says:

    Well, just to be my usual contrarian…

    Getting in bed with MS is risky. I’m not sure that I’d bet on VS Express being available for the long term, at least not with the same API. Changes like that are one of their specialties.

    Personally, I *like* the current IDE; it’s lightweight, doesn’t get in the way, and handles what needs to be handled. Plus, it integrates well with The One True Editor (vi).

    I’ve used (and still have installed, since the bloody thing doesn’t want to uninstall) the full VS2005/.NET and it’s nice in its own way but it always seemed rather huge. Pretty though…

  3. Curt Fischer says:

    I think you do yourself and your customers a disservice by dismissing Eclipse as “still too slow and bloated, and it’s getting more complex by the day.”.

    It would seem that Eclipse was the convenient foil to Visual Studio. Which is re-enforced by the late breaking news that VS Express may not be extensible. If it was extensible, I see no reason not to use it, other than the obvious. Hey, I still think my VB 6 is great.

    As someone on the mailing list brought up, you forgot to mention NetBeans. It’s at least as bloated and slow as Eclipse. Other than that, both are open source, cross platform, extensible, modular, etc. Look at the Rich Client Platforms of both. You only add modules that are required for your specific needs, which definitely speeds up the target applications.

    I don’t know about anyone else, my AMD X2 4000+ is slow compared to today’s latest and greatest, but I don’t find Eclipse or Netbeans slow. Try installing Java SE 6 update 10 beta.

    When you talk about complexity, are you talking about the effort to integrate the compiler or developing using the RCP, compared to Visual Studio or in general?

  4. Kris Heidenstrom says:

    Personally I’m happy with the IDE. As an embedded programmer, I put “pretty IDE” a long way down on my list of priorities. Code correctness and quality is very important to me, and improvements in code size would be much more helpful (for icc430, at least) – I suggest you look closely at the output from competing compilers and see where the big gains would be.
    Your blog is a good way to get feedback from users (and potential users) but I doubt our comments will have much in common with each other πŸ™‚
    Kris Heidenstrom
    Abbey Systems Ltd
    Wellington, New Zealand

  5. Imran says:

    Its good to hear that people at imagecraft have decided to enhance/change their IDE…. I never liked the IDE of v6 and v7. So I always used NotPad++ (A free and open source project) to write the code and then later learned how to use it to compile and generate the hex file of the project as well. So my few bucks about the essential requirements in the new IDE are
    1) Collapsible Code (Alongside “functions” the “if”, “while” “Switch-case” etc. should also be collapsible).
    2) Matching Braces highlighting
    3) Auto indenting (Just like Visual Studio .NET)
    4) Function List (List all the functions in the open code file and if clicked on one automatically takes to the definition of that function)
    Features 1,2,4 are implemented in notepad++

  6. Mark Barber says:

    I would like to add my 5 cents worth. I have been using ICCAVR since 1998. I like the IDE as it is. I generally find ICCAVR V7 to be very stable and reliable. If you add a MS entanglement it is likly that the stability will go out the window. While a couple of IDE improvements would be nice. I am not into “pretty” so i am good. However i do like Imrans suggestions.

    Extron Technologies

  7. Paul Mateer says:

    I too have to agree with Mark, I like the current IDE and have no issues with it.

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