Engineers buy and use development kits and evaluation boards to minimise their risk and speed the design cycle — many say they expect to get something working on a new board in a mere 30 minutes or less. So when the documentation sucks, often contradicting itself or leaving out critical details, it can be insanely frustrating. And it’s especially wrenching when the hardware is interesting and useful, as engineer/writer Jon Titus recently discovered trying out a new microcontroller dev kit from Freescale. “I have a Freescale kit here that could let engineers compare performance of 8- and 32-bit MCUs in the company’s new Flexis family. The same code should run in either processor type, which sounds like an interesting capability for engineers. But the written instructions are so awful many engineers will give up. And, nowhere in the instructions does the kit explain its purpose or provide examples readers can use to compare performance, code size, and other characteristics for each of the two processor types.
Here’s an example from the kit that jumps into an “example,” but with only brief introductory material that states the demo program can run on either processor the kit provides: 1. Open DEMOQE 128_Quick_Start project by double clicking on .mcp file inside of the project folder. Huh? Where am I when I need to click on “.mcp file”? Where’s the project folder and what does it look like? Am I supposed to run some program first? Where do I find the DEMOQE 128_Quick_Start project? By trial and error I figured out what to do. But after going through many steps, the instructions fail to explain what I’m supposed to do with this project. I guess I can stare at the C-language code until I get bored and decide to do something else. That’s it, end of story for the project. No tutorial, no walk through. Aaaaargh!!!” I wonder how many projects IC vendors such as Microchip, Freescale, and others get locked out of because engineers can’t make sense of basic dev-kit instructions? What sort of experience have you had with dev kits and tools — do they meet or fall short of your expectations?”