I still remember that seven or eight years ago developers had to pay from USD400 to 900 in order to buy a development board. And even if you had a board, you needed to pay some money for software development tools. Finally, using the board and the tool you could start develop your application using assembler. Probably that’s why microcontrollers were not so popular among average developers.
But since that time, price of microcontrollers went down and thanks to Arduino and related projects, everybody can buy a board for USD20 and use free Arduino IDE to create her own software. Traditionally, the Arduino platform supports Atmel microcontrollers and any of these microcontrollers is good for learning basic things, but for real projects you may want to select a different microcontroller. So, the main question there: if you still need to pay a lot and think about assembler, will you select a microcontroller that is not supported by Arduino? Let’s try to answer the question, looking at microcontrollers from Texas Instruments.
First of all, I would recommend to visit a web page about LaunchPads:
You can see that the cheapest LaunchPad costs less than an Arduino Uno board. This LaunchPad allows to program microcontrollers from MSP430G2x family (you can find two microcontrollers in the package with the LaunchPad). MSP430G2x supports the same features as Atmel microcontrollers that you can see on Arduiono UNO boards. More advanced board with ARM microcontroller there, 12-bits ADC convertor and 40 pins you can buy for USD12.99 only.
So, you can see that famous microcontroller manufacturers have very interesting proposals from hardware perspective. But what about software? Of course, talking about software, I want to use something similar to Arduino IDE: simple and lightweight.
Opening the software tab, you can find several tools there. The simplest tool there is Energia. Let’s install it on your Windows, Mac or Linux computer:
You can see exactly the same tool for MSP (and other) microcontrollers as Arduino IDE for Atmel.
In general, the Energia uses the same set of open-source tools as Arduino IDE and you can even use the existing code for Arduino in order to create software for Texas Instruments microcontrollers. The Energia is open-source itself and you can find lots of examples from community including embedded examples to the installation package.
So, using Texas Instruments microcontrollers you should not pay more than for board from Arduino family and you even can use the same wiring language and your existing code. The choice is not so obvious now.