Electronic Design

Reaching A Plateau

Out-of-the-box experiences for development kits vary significantly. Yet the wide range of functionality, quality, and support means that not all kits are alike. In some cases, the product design is intended for one level or another, but it's difficult to determine that from the name of the product.

I've provided readers of my EiED Online column with a gradation for various kits that I've evaluated through a hands-on process. These plateaus include:

  1. Their World: a toy to play with out-ofthebox
  2. Hello World: prepackaged development
  3. My World: full development tool with limits
  4. The World: full development tool without limits

Kits that reach the higher levels usually do a good job with lower levels, but not always. For example, many full development kits have a steep learning curve with very poor out-of-the-box experiences.

Kits that target only Plateau 1 are typically standalone devices that use a microcontroller or chip set highlighted by the kit. It may perform a specific function, such as clock or altimeter, but it's not designed to be reprogrammed. Certain kits start out this way but provide the necessary hooks so that the device can be reprogrammed.

This is where the next level occurs. The Hello World program is the quintessential C sample application that's shown here:

void main () \{ <br>
  printf ( "Hello World./n" ); <br>
  \} 

With regard to kits, this level indicates that tools and samples are provided to create or recreate simple applications.In some cases, the tool set might limit the applications to include only this set.

Moving on to Plateau 3 enables developers to complete their own applications. Often, the tools have limits. This might be the amount of code that an application can compile, or there may be a timeout associated with the tool. The former makes a solution practical for application development, and the hardware limits often match the software limits.

Finally, there's the full-up development kit with no limits, except possibly an annual subscription fee. This may be the ultimate target of developers, but many may be able to live on Plateau 3. Typically, a product limited to Plateau 3 can be upgraded to the next level. The difference between Plateau 3 and 4 is usually money and limits, not learning time, unless a move up adds new features or support applications.

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