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Installing, configuring, and maintaining a complex development environment on a computer workstation can be a laborious and sometimes frustrating activity. Web developers have long had access to cloud-based and online tools allowing them to create apps without needing to manage the IDE. Could similar tools be used effectively for embedded systems development?
The question is not academic. Growing interest in the Internet of Things implies that there will be a surge in development activity, which in many cases might be handled by teams without a substantial background in traditional embedded development tools and practices. Rather than making the effort to obtain, install, and configure traditional IDEs, such teams will look for online tools that they can access immediately.
Even for traditional embedded development teams, however, online tools have a certain appeal. Along with eliminating the need to maintain the toolset, being online can greatly simplify trans-global collaborative development. Everyone logs into the project online, without the company having to set up servers and remote access to an internal system.
But there are drawbacks to having your tools in the cloud. One is the loss of control. The tool provider may make changes to its offering that have an impact on your development process. It is not unknown, for instance, for a compiler upgrade to result in previously-acceptable code to start showing error messages. The traditional response to this situation when it occurs during a critical stage of development is to roll back to the previous version and press on for now, returning later, when there is less pressure, to identify the root cause. Should such a thing happen with an online tool, however, developers have no choice.
Discussions we had on Microcontroller Central also pointed out concerns for design security. Developers were afraid that having their works in progress being stored and managed on the web would make them vulnerable to unauthorized copy and modification.
Still, online embedded development is beginning to appear, although primarily targeting prototype and experimental development. Arrow, for instance, offers Arrow Cloud Connect as an online IDE for MCU development boards it supports. Adafruit offers WebIDE in beta form for its customers. And the ARM platform mbed has an online development system for its professional community's use.
The appearance of such offerings suggests that embedded development may well transition from user-hosted tools to online tools, one day. But for that to happen, the embedded development community will need to embrace the approach. And for developers to embrace the approach, their needs and concerns will need to be addressed. Starting now.
EETimes invites developers to join in an online chat about online development tools, occurring this Friday, November 22, at 1:00 p.m. ET (10:00 a.m. PT). Come share your experiences using online development tools, discuss your concerns with the approach, and lobby for the features and capabilities you would want to see in such tools. The movement toward online embedded development tools is just starting to build momentum, and now's the time to influence its future direction.
— Rich Quinnell, , Editor in Chief, IoT World