LabWindows/CVI Getting Started Guide

A quick look through the help files for LabWindows/CVI found it to be an interesting candidate for further investigation. It’s not exactly designed for my own project goals, but there is enough alignment to justify a closer look.

Download is accomplished through National Instruments Package Manager. Once installed and updated I could scroll through all of the National Instruments software and select LabWindows/CVI for installation. As is typical of development tools, it’s not just one package but many (~20) separate packages that get installed. Ranging from the actual IDE to runtime library redistributable binaries.

Once up and running I find that my free trial period lasts only a week, but that’s fine as I only wanted to run through their Hello World tutorial in LabWindows/CVI Getting Started Guide (PDF). The tutorial walks through generating a simple application with a few buttons and a graphing control that displays a generated sine wave. I found the LabWindows/CVI interface to be familiar, with a strong resemblance to Microsoft Visual Studio which is probably not a complete coincidence. The code editor, file browser, debug features, and drag-and-drop UI editor are all features I’ve experienced before.

The biggest difference worth calling out is the UI-based tool “Function Panel” for generating library calls. While library calls can be typed up directly in text like any other C API, there’s the option to do it with a visual representation. The function panel is a dialog box that has a description of the function and all its parameters listed in text boxes that the developer can fill in. When applicable, the panel also shows an example of the resulting configuration. Once we are satisfied with a particular setup, selecting “Code”/”Insert Function Call” puts all parameters in their proper order in C source code. It’s a nifty way to go beyond a help page of text, making it a distinct point of improvement over the Visual Studio I knew.

Not the modern Microsoft Visual Studio, though, more like Visual Studio of many years ago. The dated visual appearance of the tool itself are consistent with old appearance of available user controls. They are also consistent with the documentation, as that Getting Started PDF was dated October 2010 and I couldn’t find anything more recent. The latest edition of the more detailed LabWindows/CVI Programmer’s Reference Manual (PDF) is even older, at June 2003.

All of these data points make LabWindows appear to be a product of an earlier generation. But never mind the age – how well does it work?

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