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Maxtor & Microchip: Somebody Has To Be Different

There’s always one company has has to different.   Back when Maxtor was independent, they spun their disks backwards from everyone else, and numbered their heads from top to bottom, instead of bottom to top like everyone else does.

Microchip is acting the same.  When everyone else, it seems, is using ARM cores for microcontrollers, they picked MIPS cores for the PIC32 micro-controller (MCU) family.  Their new IDE, MPLAB-X is based on NetBeans, instead of Eclipse.

I don’t think the MIPS versus ARM core is a big deal; maybe Microchip got a much better deal from MIPS.  Switching between ARM MCU vendors isn’t easy because all the peripherals are different.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s easier to port C code from a PIC24 (16-bit proprietary) to a PIC32 (32-bit MIPS) than from (to take a random example) an Atmel SAM7 to a TI Stellaris MCU simply because the peripherals are much more similar on the PIC MCUs.

On the other hand, I don’t see the advantages of NetBeans over Eclipse.  Both are Java-based IDEs.  Both are open source.  Both are cross-platform.  (Note that an IDE based on either one might not be cross-platform, depending on device drivers for emulators and such.  TI’s Code Composer Studio V4 (based on Eclipse) only runs on Windows; V5 adds Linux.  MPLAB-X has beta downloads for Windows, Linux, and Mac).

NetBeans is primarily known for an excellent GUI builder, which typically isn’t important in embedded development.  I don’t know of any other companies using it for embedded development (or non-Java programming).  Even in the Java world, it’s been a distant second to Eclipse.

Eclipse has been used for non-Java programming (e.g. the C Development Tools or CDT) and embedded programming for a long time, and has many companies supporting it.  So Eclipse should develop a lot faster than NetBeans, and has the advantage of many more plugins.  Plus, Eclipse is run by an independent foundation, not by a company (Oracle) that likes to get paid.

Microchip is not very supportive of open source (unlike most ARM MCU companies).  On the good side, the PIC32 compiler lite version does not have any code size limitations; instead, Microchip removed optimization support.

Microchip is also a good source of low pin count chips, and is one of the few companies still selling MCUs in easy to prototype plastic DIP packages.  For example, you can get a 16-bit dspPIC33F with a CAN controller in 28 pin SOIC, QFN, and DIP packages.

I find Microchip’s mTouch Metal over Capacitor technology interesting: it allows capacitive sensing of metal buttons.


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