Posts Tagged ‘Computer’

Going Over to the Dark Side

Monday, August 10th, 2015

Finder and Visual Studio

The last few weeks has been busy but not with hardware, the STM8, STM32 and the Netduino have all been idle. It has however been an interesting month as I have been moving from PC development on to a Mac.

The Dark Side Beckons

Every few year I upgrade the home hardware set up. Slowly over the years these upgrades have become more costly to the point where light-weight portable PCs have approached the cost of equivalent Apple products. Add to this the fact that I also do some iPhone/iPad development and need an Apple machine the cost difference starts to become even smaller, in fact they nearly disappear.

This last few months has seen the time for the periodic renewal of the home IT system. Given the cost differences becoming smaller I had to consider Apple as a viable option.

Conflicting Demands

So what do I really need?

  1. Visual Studio
  2. iPhone/iPad/Mac development
  3. Netduino development
  4. STM8S development
  5. STM32 development
  6. ESP8266 development

Some of the above require access to Windows, certainly Visual Studio requires Windows, some have Mac options available (STM32 for example), some have only Windows solutions. There are several options for running Windows on a Mac but no supported ways of running OSX on a PC.

Windows can run on a Mac natively or in a virtual machine. Several options are available, BootCamp for a native implementation and VirtualBox, Parallels offer a virtualised option. Parallels is attractive as it offers coherence mode. This allows a Windows application to appear on the Mac desktop in a Window on the Mac desktop.

The only major concern now is compatibility, hardware compatibility. Some of the tools are only really available for Windows, alright either easily available for Windows or only available for Windows.

Let’s start with Visual Studio and Netduino. The recent release of Visual Code does not really make up for the wealth of tools available within Visual Studio. Netduino is a C# development environment and so this is really restricted to Visual Studio. The good news is this works well under Parallels.

The IAR development environment for the STM8S is currently only available for Windows.

Development environments for STM32 are available for both Windows and Mac. VisualGDB provides a convenient method of programming the STM32 under Windows using Visual Studio. There are several tutorials available discussing the use of Eclipse to work with the STM32, so which works and more importantly, which is more convenient?

ESP8266 can be programmed using the Arduino IDE. The board can be added using the board manager. This means that the board can be programmed from a Windows or Mac environment.

The Xamarin tools for Visual Studio is an area I wish to research and use in the future. These tools require both Windows and OSX systems.

Initial investigation indicates that using a Mac may be an option.


Reviewing the criteria above it is obvious that Windows needs to be installed on the Mac either natively, dual booting or virtualised.

The native installation would offer some benefits like having the entire machine resources available but this would make Xamarin development difficult as Visual Studio needs access to a Mac as a build server.

The option finally selected was Parallels as this allows Windows to run either as a virtualised machine in a window or to allow Windows applications to run as individually as windows on the OSX desktop.

New Software Challenges

There have certainly been some new software challenges. Moving from SQL Server to MySQL has been interesting to say the least.

Notepad++ is one tool which has been missed but there are Mac alternatives (TextWrangler and Sublime spring to mind).

Macs don’t get viruses do they!!! Not falling for that one. Luckily my ISP (BT) provides AV free of charge using McAfee’s products. I thought this would be an issue but no, there is an OSX version of McAfee’s tools available and best of all it’s “free” to me.

Backups have been made challenging as the Mac can currently read NTFS file systems but cannot write to them. All backups should be encrypted in case they are lost. Alright, only some data is sensitive, bank statements, etc. should certainly be hidden away from view. You could argue that the music collection is not really sensitive but as this is all tied up with iTunes then encryption is needed.


So how did the experience go? Well so far everything seems to have gone well. All of the necessary tools are installed and running as expected.

An early decision to use OSX native tools where possible in preference to Windows tools has made life interesting at times. The STM32 development environment has been challenging to set up on the Mac. The Windows option using VisualGDB seems to be the best option so far.

The Mac chosen was the MacBook Pro. There has been a major advantage using this machine over a laptop, fan noise. The old laptop was noisy, the fans started as soon as any real load was placed on the machine. The MacBook is silent by comparison, in fact no, the new MacBook is silent most of the time. The few times I have heard the fans start have usually coincided with Windows running.

It has been an interesting few weeks, well nearly six weeks but the system is up and running. Next stop, some more hardware development.

Happy Birthday to the BBC Micro

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

The emergence of low cost computers in the UK market in the early 1980s kick started many a career in IT. The early market was not dominated by one type of machine but rather one full of choices from a myriad of companies. School playgrounds across the country soon became split between two camps, you either loved the Spectrum or the BBC Micro (which quickly became known as the Beeb). There were friends with other computers (Vic 20, Dragon, Commodore 64 to name a few) but these people were in the minority and viewed as weird.

Today marks the day the BBC Micro was first launched on the market. At the time it was expensive compared to the other machines on the market but it was supported by the BBC in the form of a TV series about computers and their uses.

At the time the BBC Micro was launched I had already been programming for several years but it is this machine which I remember with fondness. I had a great time learning how this machine worked and even purchased the Advanced BBC Micro handbook. It was this handbook which allowed me to get closer to the hardware. I even wrote my own disc operating system. This also taught me a very valuable lesson, always backup your work – I accidental tested the format command on the disc containing the only copy of the source code. To my dismay it was one of those occasions where I had managed to write 200 lines of assembler which worked perfectly first time.

The early industry meant that schools had to quickly put together a programme of lessons which taught pupils about the new machines and how to use them. The lack of software such as spreadsheets, presentation software etc. meant that children were taught about the machines and how they worked. Something which is lacking today. This lack of understanding about how computers actually work is slowly being recognised here in the UK and it appears that the government is starting to recognise that something needs to be done. One group of people who remember those early days are already working on a small computer for the education market. Check out the Raspberry Pi for more information on the project.

You can read more about the BBC Micro in this article on the BBCs news web site.

Happy Birthday BBC Micro

30 Years Old Today

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

Not me, now that would take some imagination 🙂  The ZX81, probably the first cheap usable home computer.

This had me thinking about how times have moved on looking at my hobbies then and now.  At the time I had an amateur interest in electonics.  This lasted about 4 years and then lapsed as I could not find the money to support the hobby and go through university at the same time.  30 years on and I now find myself playing with hardware once again.

Looking back to 1981 we had the ZX81

  1. Z80 based system based on the MK14 computer kit (worked on by Chris Curry)
  2. 64 KBytes RAM
  3. Video output to TV
  4. Programs written in BASIC, stored as byte codes and interpreted

In 2011 I find myself playing with the Netduino

  1. ARM based processor (ARM was born from Acorn Computers which in turn was founded by Chris Curry)
  2. 60 KBytes RAM
  3. No video output
  4. Programmed in C#, stored as byte codes which are interpreted

Progress 🙂