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Microsoft releases .NET toolkit for embedded systems

Posted: 19 Feb 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:processors? .NET? Microsoft? SDK? Windows?

Making its new .NET Micro Framework accessible to embedded systems developers, Microsoft Corp. this week rolled out a Software Development Toolkit (SDK) for the framework at Embedded World 2007 in Germany. Several third-party providers announced support as well.

Microsoft last year announced plans to commercialize the .Net Micro Framework, a platform that it previously used internally. It claims to bring the managed code advantages of the desktop .NET Framework to resource-constrained embedded devices, while allowing development with Microsoft's Visual Studio.

The .NET Micro Framework claims to require only a few hundred kilobytes of RAM, and it runs on ARM7 and ARM9-based processors. The SDK lets users develop embedded solutions in Microsoft's C# language using a subset of the .NET libraries focused on embedded applications. It's aimed at small devices that don't need the capabilities of Windows XP Embedded or Windows CE.

Not an RTOS
Colin Miller, Microsoft director of the .NET Micro Framework, said the framework brings embedded developers advantages such as garbage collection, code protection, memory management and more ease with developing robust applications. It is not, however, an RTOS. "We refer to it as bootable run time," Miller said. "It includes an execution engine, threading, and many things you'd expect, but it's lightweight and doesn't have the richness of Windows CE."

One thing that will be new to embedded designers, Miller acknowledged, is programming in the C# language. Compared to C, he said, C# is "a language that runs inside a managed environment. It's much more foolproof. One thing that's very difficult about an embedded application is debugging it, and this drastically shortens that."

C# will help desktop developers move to deeply embedded applications, Miller said. And it means companies that are using .NET elsewhere won't have to maintain a separate programming environment for deeply embedded code, he noted.

The new SDK includes Microsoft Visual Studio integration and an extensible emulator. It is supported by a number of ARM7 and ARM9-based hardware platforms. The software emulator, Miller said, lets users debug applications that are running on hardware, while providing debugging features such as breakpoints.

Free download
The SDK is available online without charge. It requires a minimum of 256Kbytes RAM and 512Kbytes flash/ROM. It also requires Microsoft Visual Studio 2005, and a 1GHz Pentium processor is recommended.

Also at Embedded World, Digi International revealed plans for initial release of the Digi Connect ME development kit for the .NET Micro Framework. It claims to be the only solution for the framework that supports Ethernet networking. Embedded Fusion announced the Meridian CPU, which has the .NET Micro Framework built in, and the Tahoe Development platform, which enables experimentation with the framework.

- Richard Goering
EE Times

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