National Instruments NI Week was the scene for the release of the latest LabView 2011. It adds a range of new features including 13 community generated productivity enhancements (see Listening To Developers). This matches the trend for other enhancements to LabView in this release as well.
LabView started as a graphical test and measurement control environment. It has since moved to the forefront of graphical programming targeting real-time embedded systems and FPGAs (see LabVIEW 8.6 Adds FPGA, Multicore Support). Its dataflow-style graphical programming language lends itself to parallel programming and multicore support that is in the latest versions.
LabView Real-Time has improved deployment time. It does this with transparent object caching. It also performs selective file transfers reducing bandwidth requirements. There is also improved Packet Project library support. The compile time is up to five times faster for LabView FPGA projects.
From a programming perspective, National Instruments has added a number of new features like simplified multithreading (Fig. 1) and an Application Builder API (Fig. 2). The simplified multithreading provides explicit control of virtual instruments (VI) in their own thread. The Application Builder API now allows a LabView application to build another LabView application without resorting to command line tools. Now a LabView program and be used to generate a customize environment that it could then run.
LabView 2011 has improved its integration with Matlab and Microsoft's .Net environment (Fig. 3). Both capabilities were available in the past but, like the Application Builder API, it was a bit cumbersome and some new functionality was not available at the time. This type of integration is critical for embedded applications where algorithms or interfaces are supported by these third party tools. Matlab is well known for being the tool for creating DSP algorithms.
Third party tools are key to LabView's success. The incorporation of an interface to the LabView Tools Network (Fig. 4) within LabView's IDE (integrated development environment) highlights this importance. It is now possible to search for tools and download them directly into a project. Many of these tools are free, open source projects.
Listening To Developers
Integration and new features were just some of the enhancements found in LabView 2011. There were a number of user interface improvements. For example, the Icon Editor launches 86% faster now. This provides a snappier development environment.
National Instruments has also include productivity enhancements based on user feedback. LabView developers can post suggestions and vote on the desirablity of these features. Some that made it into LabView 2011 include an Improve Block Diagram Readability (Fig. 5) tool from Jack Dunaway. It received 460 Kudos (their rating system). It addresses the design of front panel interfaces and block diagrams. The Distribute Tool adjusts the alignment of wires and other controls. These tools provide functionality found in diagram and drawing tools found in other environments. This is actually critical to LabView applications because of the visual nature of the interface as well as the program.
Sometimes the features can be very tiny. Type definitions are available in LabView. They are useful for maintaining consistency between controls and indicators across multiple projects. A tiny triangular control on a VI icon now provides a menu to create a type definition from an object.
The new Edit»Create SubVI function in LabVIEW 2011 handles creation of a new VI using the standard 4-2-2-4 connector pane pattern. It place connector references, including error handling in the standard positions so VIs will be more consistent.
In many cases these new features are isolated but they affect areas that are used on a regular basis by developers like the creation of SubVIs. Overall their affect is to significantly improve the development and debugging experience. LabView 2011's concentration on productivity is a nice change from the underlying GPU and multicore changes of the past. Now LabView is fast and easy to use.