Empowering the end-user is the primary focus of most software developers, whether in the general computing industry or in automotive instrumentation applications. End-users' expectations for both ease of use and flexibility in software products are high. Products in the general computing industry, such as Microsoft Word and Excel, have set standards for what a user expects from a software product. Because of the complex nature of most analytical instrumentation applications, it is difficult to deliver a software product for these applications that is both easy to use and flexible for many applications. And, if the product does exist, it usually comes with a relatively high price tag.
There are, however, some lower cost software development tools available for instrumentation applications that combine a good mix of flexibility and ease of use. These tools require some development on the part of the end-user, but they do not require a computer science background. The low-cost software consists of standard, off-the-shelf development tools, such as standard and graphical programming languages and application software packages. Many programming languages, for example C and BASIC, are packaged with development aids so that users can easily configure their own experiments and measurements using add-in toolkits specifically designed for instrumentation. The programming languages provide the flexibility, and the add-in toolkits deliver sufficient ease of use for the instrumentation user. Graphical programming languages have recently become very popular development tools for instrumentation systems. They are much easier to learn than standard programming languages but do not sacrifice programming flexibility. Another benefit of a graphical language is the inherent GUI tools with which users can create very sophisticated operator interfaces. This paper discusses some strategies for selecting and using standard, off-the-shelf software development tools for analytical instrumentation applications.