Microchip always forges its own path. It's line of PIC micros is unique and it choose the MIPS architecure when it came up with a new 32-bit microcontroller line. Their new MPLAB X (Fig. 1) integrated development environment (IDE) veers from the common Eclipse path taken by many other embedded vendors. Instead, Microchip built on anothe open source, Java-based platform, NetBeans.
MPLAB X is built on NetBeans and it supports the underlying framework allowing use of many third party plug-ins. Still, Microchip decided to make this a PIC development platform so MPLAB looks and operates more like a standalone IDE. This tends to simplify new user interaction but makes it more challenging to take advantage of NetBeans as a multiplaform development tool. Microchip wanted to make sure that existing developers would be able to develop C and C++ applications for PIC microcontrollers.
The IDE supports an advanced editor with code completion, color coding and context menu support. A major change is a more robust project system with simulataneous support for multiple compiler versions. The team collaboration tools for source-code management and bug tracking alone are worth switching from the older version of MPLAB. Bugzilla support is standard. The other advantage of NetBeans is the refactoring support.
MPLAB X has been in long term beta so it is not a surpise to Microchip watchers. I was able to download a copy and check it out awhile back. It is very snappy and on par with the simplicity of the prior version of MPLAB. I suspect any developer using Microchip's debug hardware will be moving to MPLAB X for new projects. Old projects can be imported but dealing with a new platform in the middle of a project is a plan for disaster.
The big item that is well integrated with the IDE is Microchip's debugger. That is not surprising given the need to support the entire PIC product line. Microchip includes plenty of docs, tutorials and sample projects for chips across the product line.
MPLAB X suppors all Microchip 8-, 16- and 32-bit microcontrollers and runs on a range of platforms including Windows, Linux and MacOS. Most debug and third party tools will work with MPLAB X including the MPLAB ICD 3, PICkit 3 and MPLAB REAL ICE debugger/programmers. MPLAB X is a free download like its predecessor. Check it out.