Microsoft Offers Productivity Tools For Embedded Device Programming

Micro Framework 2.5 contains its own TCP/IP stack to make it easier to design and build Web connections and services into embedded devices.
Microsoft is making some of the graphical programming aids and built-in plumbing that characterize desktop Visual Studio available to small device programmers, who in the past have been left mired in language syntax to fend as best they could for themselves.

Embedded device programmers "typically work with poor tool sets compared to what's available" for server and desktop computer programming, said Colin Miller, product unit manager for Microsoft's .Net Micro Framework.

At Embedded World 2008 in Nuremberg, Germany, Microsoft officials yesterday said they were making available .Net Micro Framework 2.5, a release of its mobile and embedded device programming system that adopts some of the built-in conventions of Visual Studio. Micro Framework was launched a year ago at the same show, said Miller.

Embedded systems cover a diversity of products, from the controls on manufacturing machines to hospital patient monitoring systems to smart cell phones.

"It usually takes one to two years to bring a device with embedded software to market. Eighty to 90 percent of the effort is building the software," said Miller. "By bringing desktop productivity tools down to the embedded market, we should be able to reduce that time to three months," he predicted.

Although some devices still make use of 8- and 16-bit microprocessors, the Microsoft Framework is aimed at 32-bit processors, which now constitute the majority of the market.

Micro Framework 2.5, for example, will contain its own TCP/IP stack, which programmers take for granted when using Visual Studio and other tools for building software for Windows Server, Unix, or Linux systems. The TCP/IP stack will make it easier to design and build Web connections and services into embedded devices.

The 2.5 framework will have its own Common Language Runtime, which, like Visual Studio, will allow developers to run and test the software they're working on without downloading it to a separate system.

Any embedded device that can be plugged into the USB port of a standard PC can also be used as a test target, with the developer able to see and debug the results in his Micro Framework programming environment, aiding trouble shooting and rapid development.

"The .Net [programming] environment as imagined on the desktop didn't consider a lot of issues that developers run into with embedded devices," conceded Miller. With the Micro Framework adapting .Net visual conventions for embedded developers, Microsoft is furthering "a high productivity environment" for mobile and embedded devices.

Windows CE programming was previously the smallest executable environment offered by Microsoft and required a minimum of 300 Kbytes of RAM. The Micro Framework 2.5 generates a runtime environment with a TCP/IP stack in 128 kilobytes, Miller noted.

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