Archive for the ‘blog_series’ Category

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I’m going to contradict myself in this month’s blog post. I don’t use clichés much, however I (usually) find them to be accurate and descriptive. (Note: because most clichés have become trite or irritating, we often forget that their novel origin was based in truth). Let me take you back to when I started at NI.


In the late ‘90s, reprogrammable silicon was considered mainstream across consumer, automotive, and industrial applications. Based on the critical invention of the XC2064 FPGA by Freeman and Vondershmitt, the FPGA was becoming a coveted technology for the compute power, field-upgradability, and performance capabilities. However, tools to program the FPGA prevented domain expert access: creating a technology that was too good to be true. Or so I thought.


In 2001, I began working with an in-development product we had demoed at NIWeek a few years earlier, but hadn’t released yet. This not-so-secret project, code named “RVI” or reconfigurable virtual instrumentation, was a graphical design approach to programming an FPGA. Having a computer science and math background, abstract and software-centric is more comfortable and familiar to me than meticulous hardware design. So the idea that you (or even a CS-person like me) could abstract a ton of silicon details and program the hardware with a productive tool like LabVIEW (rather than an HDL) seemed impossible.


This is where the contradiction begins. It wasn’t too good to be true; the cliché was wrong. It was good AND it was true. Luckily, I could rely on another well-known phrase used at NI to describe the innovation taking place: “the genius of the AND” inspired by author Jim Collins. With productive, graphical programming; system abstraction; AND hardware design for dedicated determinism including 25 ns I/O response, protocol customization, and rapid prototyping, LabVIEW FPGA breaks the cliché.


I’m not the only geek who gets excited about this capability. Stijn Schacht of T&M Solutions took advantage of the control accuracy of an FPGA to lift 20-metric-ton unbalanced trays of uncured concrete more than 6 meters while maintaining a strict accuracy of two millimeters. Because he used LabVIEW to get that precision from the FPGA, his team developed an application in only two months and was able to reuse the modular code for their next project.


Kurt Osborne at Ford Motor Company is a believer as well. Ford used LabVIEW FPGA to design and implement a real-time embedded control system for an automotive fuel cell system.


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The LabVIEW Communications environment enables an entire design team to map an idea from algorithm to FPGA using a single high-level representation.


So what’s next? I encourage you to explore the latest cliché contradiction that takes FPGA design to the next level – LabVIEW Communications System Design Suite.


LabVIEW Communications is a complete design flow (with bundled software defined radio hardware) for wireless communications algorithms. This suite includes everything from an integrated FPGA flow, to an HLS compiler, to a new canvas (Multirate Diagram) for streaming algorithms, and an innovative way to explore your hardware system with the NI System Designer. The genius of the AND lives on in LabVIEW Communications.


Explore the latest cliché contradiction today at


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Today’s Featured Author

Shelley Gretlein is a self-proclaimed software geek and robot aficionado. As NI’s director of software marketing, you can find Shelley championing LabVIEW from keynote stages to user forums to elevator conversations. You can follow her on Twitter at @LadyLabVIEW.

Today’s post is part of a monthly series exploring areas of focus and innovation for NI software. term “user interface” doesn’t adequately capture the depth of experiences we have while interacting with today’s mobile and desktop computing platforms that serve as portals into the evolving virtual world. Personally, I have never been more motivated by the trends in computing platforms with the web and cloud and radical innovations in UI ranging from touch to advanced visualizations of massive amounts of data. However, the fracturing of the Wintel monopoly creates a challenge for software developers of all kinds to be able to develop solutions that can reach all customers on all of the screens they use.

There isn’t really one technology that can deliver native, first-class experiences on all mobile platforms, all web platforms (aka browsers), and all operating systems. We are faced with a clear cost versus reach versus “native-ness” tradeoff.

It’s interesting to watch as key technologies like HTML5 rapidly adapt their core capabilities and browser vendors continue to optimize the performance of their JavaScript engines. There is massive potential in these rapidly improving Web technologies with strong use cases that not only provide traditionally-oriented controls and indicators for data visualization, but also have the power to support full “sovereign” capabilities like rendering and even editing LabVIEW diagrams themselves.

You can’t really talk about Web front ends without acknowledging the back-end server or cloud infrastructure with which the front end communicates. When NI looks at the world through the lens of acquire, analyze, and present in the context of the Web, we naturally map our presentation layer of VIs and controls and indicators to elements within the browser. However, the acquisition, storage, and analysis functions need to run server-side and server-side at scale with Big Data, or as we like to say, Big Analog Data. We are creating IT-friendly, server-side middleware that can manage the acquisition and storage of Big Analog Data and then provide Web-friendly APIs to that data so customers can quickly create VIs to visualize and analyze the data.

We are not only seeing massive shifts on the Web UI front, but also with mobile and tablet experiences, specifically around touch. For a language like LabVIEW, predicated on direct manipulation and a rich visual and spatial interaction model, we see a clear match between touch-enabled platforms, graphical programming, and interacting with your data.

We feel LabVIEW is the most touch-ready language on the planet and we think the best way to interact with controls and indicators for data visualization is also touch-based. Thus, we want to enable touch-based features for LabVIEW and touch-based features for your VIs. 

Today, the NI R&D team is simplifying a version of the LabVIEW editor, in collaboration with LEGO, which is touch-ready and tablet-friendly. The early prototypes in the lab are a delight to use and when you see and use it, I hope you agree. NI is well suited to map the beneficial evolutions of UI capabilities on the Web and in touch to engineers, scientists, and students and are working hard to do exactly that.

Stay tuned as we discuss more features the NI team is exploring for updates to NI software.


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Today’s Featured Author

David Fuller has nearly 20 years experience in software engineering and is currently NI’s vice president of application and embedded software. You can’t follow him on Twitter because he’s a software engineer.

Today’s post is part of a monthly series exploring areas of focus and innovation for NI software.


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The introduction of LabVIEW to the market was defined by a revolutionary graphical user interface that included a combination of built-in libraries for engineering applications and a drag-and-drop UX schema. I’ve heard stories from the “original” generation at NI regarding the jaw-dropping nature of LabVIEW in the early 80s and 90s due primarily to the simplicity of the development of the UI. Of course, 30 years ago the Internet didn’t exist, cellular networks were a novel idea for military applications, and touch-screen tablets were a distant dream.

For decades, the GUI set LabVIEW apart from traditional programming languages for two reasons. First, the UI components were built into the environment instead of being paid, add-on libraries. Second, the UI components were custom designed for engineering applications including gauges, tanks, and intensity charts. As a generality, the most critical aspect of UI development in an engineering application is the simplicity of data visualization. The LabVIEW UI was designed for the concept of visualizing time-based waveform measurements, the kind of measurements most commonly associated with real-world analog data such as temperature, vibration, and voltage.


Almost 30 years later, the LabVIEW UI is still well-suited for visualizing measurement data. Over the years, engineering tools have continued to evolve, closing this gap in UI functionality and ease of use. But it was the evolution of the consumer mobile market that seriously changed user expectations. Users now not only want, but expect advanced concepts in their UIs such as gestures, resolution scaling, and dynamic movement.

Most pragmatic users of LabVIEW are entirely content with the functional display capabilities of LabVIEW today. However, they voice their opinion on the Idea Exchange, and these typically fall into three categories:


1.      General Look and Feel
The LabVIEW UI was designed to mimic the front panel of a physical instrument, graphing measurement data and providing a layout of knobs and sliders to control the measurement parameters. The design decisions made to this effect are often antiquated for the expectations of today’s modern UI principles. I often hear LabVIEW users say “this UI looks like it was built in the 80’s.”

2.     Customizability
Generally speaking, the Control Editor inside of LabVIEW helps developers apply a wide range of customizations to UI elements, breaking down each control to its elemental components where pictures, designs, and color schemes can be applied.


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It’s not the functionality capability that most developers want to see improved, but the simplicity in applying sophisticated customizations and extensions. LabVIEW lacks a well-structured API to interface to these customizations, instead relying on an interaction editor to accomplish the task. That lack of automation from a tool centered on the concept of automation is limiting.


3.     Portability
Lastly, the portability of LabVIEW UIs are minimal. The portability requirement is generally either to scale to a different size or resolution of monitor, or to a mobile-based device. By design, the LabVIEW UI is vector-based, which fundamentally limits the scalability or portability to different sizes or platforms.


These limitations leave LabVIEW behind where we want to be in terms of UI design, functionality, and portability. Redesigning the foundation of any UI is a difficult, multi-year effort. Fortunately, we’re significantly far into this investment-unfortunately, we’re not quite far enough. Over the next few years, you’ll begin to see our investment reach the point of deployment…deployment to you.


Follow along as we near that deployment; we’ll be sharing more information with you along the way.



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Today’s Featured Author

Jeff Phillips considers LabVIEW as essential to his day as food, water, and oxygen. As senior group manager for LabVIEW product marketing at NI, Jeff focuses on how LabVIEW can meet the changing needs of users. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheLabVIEWLion.

Today’s post is part of a monthly series exploring areas of focus and innovation for NI software.


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Whether we love them or hate them, UIs–the veneer on our code, configuration, hardware, and data analytics–define our experience and influence our productivity. GUI history is remarkable. From the unsuccessful yet influential Xerox Star in 1981, to the 1984 Macintosh and Windows 3.0, we saw multipanel windows; desktop metaphors with paper, folders, clocks, and trashcans; browser wars brought dashboards; and Windows 8 introduced live tiles. This history provides a map for what GUIs may look like in the future.

Engineering and scientific UIs were historically distinct from consumer or architectural design. For NI, GUIs are rooted in the success of virtual instrumentation, which mimicked legacy box instruments. The virtual instrumentation approach trumped traditional test and measurement software teams who lost sight of basic UI design in a frenzy to build more features.

LabWindows/CVI is an example of an engineering-specific GUI, an interface to mimic traditional box equipment.


Today, we are in a transition where UI design is more than a competitive advantage, it’s a requirement. Heavily influenced by consumer experiences, today’s users seek solutions which offer as much intuitiveness as function.

We should all demand GUIs which are:

  1. (actually) Graphical – End unintuitive TUIs (I thought I made that up but didn’t).
  2. Skinnable – Different than customizable, your UI should come with themes, skins, and documented extensibility points.
  3. Modern - This means a clean, minimalist design (more is NOT better in the UI world) to let you focus on the data and information rather than the control.
  4. Designed – Layout, color, font, and hue saturation all matter. Don’t assume these elements aren’t necessary.

To meet these demands, vendors are investing in interaction, user experience, and user interface designers (including NI). I predict we will see more UI trends such as:


  • Flat – 2013 was the year most design experts began teaching and preaching the minimalistic design approach featuring clean, open space, crisp edges, and bright colors to emphasize usability
  • Mobile design – with consideration for high-end graphics power and heat leads to simpler interfaces and two dimensionality (Metro and 2012 Gmail redesign)
  • 3D – led by gaming and content industries, direct 3D and OpenGL technologies give us a beautiful experience on powerful platforms with 3D rendering, shading, and transparency effects (AIGLX for Red Hat Fedora, Quartz Extreme for Mac OS X, and Vista's Aero)
  • Virtual Reality – growing in feasibility, heads up displays are no longer reserved for pilots, VR is showing up everywhere from the 2013 PriusAirbus Smart Factory


Regardless of future designs, the most important element to plan for: design trends will and must evolve.   Profit margins and adoption of your products will be defined by the user experience – which is first experienced through your user interface. 


Need more convincing? Forrester Research finds that “a focus on customers’ experience increases their willingness to pay by 14.4 percent, reduces their reluctance to switch brands by 15.8 percent, and boosts their likelihood to recommend your product by 16.6 percent.”


Do you agree? Tell us what you think by commenting below or connecting with the UI Interest Group to learn tips and tricks from top LabVIEW developers.


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Today’s Featured Author

Shelley Gretlein is a self-proclaimed software geek and robot aficionado. As NI’s director of software marketing, you can find Shelley championing LabVIEW from keynote stages to user forums to elevator conversations. You can follow her on Twitter at @LadyLabVIEW.

Today’s post is part of a monthly series exploring areas of focus and innovation for NI software.

While most designers, whether with canvas, marble, brick or thread, revel at the thought of their work being identifiable at a glance, it’s not so of software developers. The phrase “I recognize that UI, it’s definitely LabVIEW” is not necessarily meant as a compliment.

Being “more modern” is one of the first three feature requests of any LabVIEW user, typically in some order with zoom and new UI components. As the world’s expectations of the word modern have evolved, parts of LabVIEW have not kept pace.

Today’s user expectations of all modern software are being established in the consumer world. Consumer products are establishing expectations around UX schemes, in-product purchases, and UI design. This is an interesting phenomenon that Adam Richardson explores in his book Innovation X: Why a Company’s Toughest Problems Are Its Greatest Advantage.


To fully modernize, there is work that needs to be done both in the design of the LabVIEW environment and in the ways that you as a user interact with it. Requests in our own LabVIEW Idea Exchange bear the same intention. While LabVIEW provides many helpful windows, such as Context Help, Probe Watch Windows, and the View Error List; however, they float around the screen. LabVIEW users are seeking conceptual improvements such as a multiple document interface and the ability to tab windows.


Particularly with new users, it’s not the design but the multiple UX paradigms that prevent them from maximizing their productivity. Consider an array control where there are three areas, just pixels apart, that produce different right-click menus:

  1. The area in the numeric control
  2. The border of the numeric control
  3. The border of the array control


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While many of the options are available through the magic right-click menus, some options are only available through the environment pull-down menus, sometimes in the front panel or block diagram, sometimes in the project explorer.

While we remain in awe of what our customers develop, discover, and revolutionize with LabVIEW, the Product Management team understands that NI software has fallen behind in this area. As a LabVIEW developer, or someone considering LabVIEW, you may wonder, “Yes, but what are you doing about it?” We’re glad you asked.

There is now a team of interaction designers and a separate team of visual designers. While we can all appreciate the uncompromising creative prowess of the engineering mind, you can only see so many blue windows titled “Blue Window.” We have evolved our engineering process such that the visual and interaction design of each feature, window, document, and option now uses the expertise of these two teams. This was the first step toward making LabVIEW look and feel as good as it does enable creativity and innovation.

Follow LabVIEW News in the coming months as we discuss other topics related to areas of areas of focus and innovation in NI software.


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Today’s Featured Author

Jeff Phillips considers LabVIEW as essential to his day as food, water, and oxygen. As senior group manager for LabVIEW product marketing at NI, Jeff focuses on how LabVIEW can meet the changing needs of users. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheLabVIEWLion.

Today’s post is part of a monthly series exploring areas of focus and innovation for NI software.“Modern” is one of those ever-evolving adjectives that trendy fashion designers and architects really work hard to be associated with. Software engineers? Not so much. For the last few decades, the words modern and software, in the minds of computer scientists, were by definition synonymous. To the betterment of all, well, to the betterment of people that use software, the industry has shifted seismically in our thinking on what modern software really means.

Starting in the consumer space, the technology triumvirate of web, mobile, and cloud combined with the ideas of user-oriented designers have redefined ALL of our expectations about computer interaction.  We have moved from software and computers as baroque and exclusive to simple and ubiquitous for use in most every facet of our daily lives.

Historically, industrial software has safely ignored many consumer software trends because of the core value provided for the industrial user. It was almost a badge of honor to expose complex, unapproachable, and plain ugly software with corresponding reams of printed documentation. If it’s complex and unapproachable, it must be powerful! However, because of beautifully-designed mobile apps, universally available websites, frequent software updates you can download from a wireless device, and cloud-hosted video, photo, and document repositories all running reliably and responsively, those days are over.

Modern industrial software must be user-oriented to deliver productive experiences quickly. While this seems obvious, that is, to put the user first, computer scientists have a harder time with this psychology than most. Thus, it is fundamentally essential to alter the composition of your modern design team to include user-oriented people with a tad bit more empathy and art than your stereotypical scientist. These designers and artists tend to create more visually appealing applications. Again, not to state the obvious, but artists produce better art than programmers. Conversely, programmers produce better programs than artists. When you work on a purely visual language, it just makes sense to have visual designers and iconographers on your team. Together, designers and programmers deliver user-centric, aesthetically pleasing software—the key elements of modern software.


Tablets and smartphones, because of their touch-based direct manipulation, mandate that apps respond quickly and fluidly. In basic touch interactions, if the app can’t keep up with a finger dragging across the device, the app becomes nearly unusable. Humans perceive tracking lag if the app takes more than 1 ms to update during these fluid interactions.  

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Humans perceive tracking lag if an app takes more than 1 ms to respond to their touch gestures on a touch-enabled device.


Think about how long you have to wait for today’s powerful search engines to return your search results. Not long, right? So why does an app have a wait cursor to load a simple dialog when you can access all of the world’s digital information without one? While not all aspects of an app have to beat the 1 ms deadline for touch or the speed of Internet search, these apps have rightly placed performance as another central element of modern software.


The modern user justifiably expects more from both their consumer and industrial software. I am inspired by these new and, I believe, evergreen expectations. As modern software engineers, we must deliver productive, powerful measurement and automation software that is not only user-centered and visually appealing, but scalable for future features, and high performance.


Do you agree? What do you think are the hallmarks of modern software? Comment below with your thoughts.


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Today’s Featured Author

David Fuller has nearly 20 years experience in software engineering and is currently NI’s vice president of application and embedded software. You can’t follow him on Twitter because he’s a software engineer.

Today’s post is part of a monthly series exploring areas of focus and innovation for NI software.


I’m excited about this new series—a collection of software musings intended to discuss revolutionary transformations happening right now in the modern software developer space. As the leader of a three-decade young software platform, I’m more than a little excited that the days when developers use a serial design methodology, work on monolithic technology stacks, deploy to a singular hardware device, or develop predictable IP are obliterated.


Our modern, high-tech world is one where expectations have dramatically evolved, everything is distributed, the challenges we face didn’t exist five years ago, and the challenges we are building for have yet to be defined (at least with a catchy marketing tagline). In my view, there are three oversimplified areas that define world-class, modern software.


1. User Experience Is King

Adam Richardson made this blatantly clear in his book Innovation X—whether you’re designing for creative Gen Y artists or mature employees in an established engineering discipline, your software design will be held to a new standard. Twenty years ago distinct industries were held to their own separate UX standards. Consumers had their expectations, engineers had theirs, and students had theirs. But today, these lines are so blurry that they no longer exist. Instead, what Samsung does with the next mobile UI influences and impacts the experience lead scientists at CERN expect from their engineering software. While traditional test and control vendors might continue to struggle, this is a great thing for all of us that consume (and develop) software. We have high expectations and we should have them met. Massive innovation is desperately needed in our space.


2. Distributed Data, Analytics, and Devices Showed Up Yesterday

Your software must be optimized for smartphones, tablets, laptops, clouds, and even wearables. This “trend” already happened by the way, just in case you weren’t looking, and it’s something modern software tools need to understand, leverage, and connect with. This simple statement encompasses a whole host of software challenges spanning incredibly diverse capabilities from e-ink screens to ultra HD, OS compatibility from Linux to iOS, mobile apps, HTML 5, and traditional client software. Knowing all of our devices will be connected, the inherent capabilities in your software need to be baked-in to communicate, correlate, and analyze data from your other devices, the back-end systems, and those devices you thought were unrelated.


3. The Possibilities Dwarf the Challenges

Yes, it’s daunting, but the modern software world is more tempting than terrifying. Even traditional, on-premise software vendors like Microsoft are transforming their views on software to be cloud-optimized, hardware-centric vendors like Xilinx are looking toward innovation where they never ventured before, the maker market is influencing monster corporations, and creative design is driving functionality in traditionally conservative fields like engineering and science at a much needed pace.


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David Fuller and me demonstrating the possibilities of a touch screen user interface at NIWeek 2011.


Moving forward in this series, we will explore how revolutionary visions of a true software platform framework change the productivity and capability game in ways our industry may not be able to imagine today.


So stay tuned to LabVIEW News—we’ve got some fun conversations ahead and hope you will join in.


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Today’s Featured Author

Shelley Gretlein is a self-proclaimed software geek and robot aficionado. As NI’s director of software marketing, you can find Shelley championing LabVIEW from keynote stages to user forums to elevator conversations. You can follow her on Twitter at @LadyLabVIEW.

It’s safe to say that LabVIEW has one of the most passionate user communities out there. With such an enthusiastic group comes a lot of feedback—both positive and constructive. NI customers have been loud and clear about their concern that LabVIEW is lagging behind modern software trends. While the challenges our customers are meeting with LabVIEW remain on the cutting edge of their fields, we recognize the need for an enhanced user experience.

Beginning today, LabVIEW News will publish a monthly series discussing areas of focus and innovation for NI software. Titled “Point of VIEW” – the series will cover the latest industry trends, R&D insights, and customer questions or requests.


Click Receive email notifications in the top, right corner of your screen or View feeds to follow along and join the conversation.