“You are only allowed to vote on an idea positively, or not at all, and you can only vote once on each idea, because we want to encourage users and don’t want any element of competitiveness,” says Jeffrey Phillips, National Instrument’s LabView product manager, based in Austin, Texas. “We have found that the online community moderates itself very well. There is a strong sense of self-policing and we find that, in general, the best ideas always rise to the top.”
Phillips admits that not every user suggestion can be developed. “Some just cannot be progressed as they work against fundamental decisions that have been previously made. In these cases we supply the online community with an explanation of why we can’t take the idea forward.”
One of the most popular user-suggested improvements incorporated into LabView 2010 was a means of making code easier to read when using wire labels as part of the graphical programming element of the software. Tracking connections across long wires in LabView code could sometimes be difficult amid complex representations of on-screen data. So LabView user Paul Falkenstein of Pennsylvania made a suggestion to improve code readability by adding labels to long wires, thus making it easier to know which wires belonged to which terminals. The improvement gained support from within the online community, attracting 216 positive votes. It was then taken up and progressed by LabView’s development engineers and National Instruments says the feedback received since it was launched has been extremely positive.
“This is a perfect example of how the ideas exchange can improve usability,”
says Phillips. “The ability to add a label to the wire means code can be documented so much more clearly. It improves readability. This was an idea that was quite simple to implement but it has made a huge difference.”
Phillips expects LabView 2011 to contain at least as many user suggestions as its predecessor. He says that the ideas exchange has become one of the foremost ways National Instruments garners feedback from the scientists and engineers who use LabView in the measurement, test, and control sectors.
“Their success is our success – it’s as simple as that,” he says. “The added functionality in 2010 was well-received by the people who most wanted it. The primary focus in 2011 will be to improve edit time usability and to make the software more responsive and streamlined. And many of those improvements will come from the feedback we receive from our customers in the field.”
User-suggested improvements from the LabView ideas exchange
- Edit subVI wire connections faster: Changing wire terminals for subVIs via the connector pane used to require excessive mouse clicks. Now it is possible to change connections faster with a new keyboard shortcut.
- Differentiate string data with new terminal radix: String data is often simple text, but it can also represent hex data, ‘\’ codes, and passwords. A new radix on string terminals toggles to display the kind of string data assigned, making code easier to read and troubleshoot.
Redesigned block diagram objects
- Streamline block diagram with the flexible merge errors nodes: Instead of using a handful of merge error nodes to combine error data, the new node expands to collect as many error wires as the code requires, reducing clutter on the block diagram. (Below, diagram 1)
- Reduce block diagram footprint with new cluster constant: The new cluster constant is another space-saving feature. After defining the elements in a cluster constant, it is now possible to right-click on it to replace it with a small icon on the block diagram to clear up space and improve code readability. (Below, diagram 2)
New LabView project management functionality
- Close all VIs within a project and use improved project/VI menu display: As LabView applications become more advanced, developers often have multiple projects open at the same time. Previously, the “Close All VIs” menu option closed all open VIs and not just those from a particular project. The new version includes a new “Close All VIs in Project” menu option, making it easier to manage large numbers of VIs and multiple projects.
- LabView 2010 also includes improved navigation in the Windows menu, where projects and VIs are separated from each other to make it faster to switch between projects.
New time-savers with Quick Drop
- Replace an object using Quick Drop and create custom hotkeys: With the Quick Drop feature, users can search, select, and place VIs using a short series of keystrokes. It is now possible to use Quick Drop to replace a selected VI with another from within the Quick Drop utility, saving users more development time. It is also possible to create specific hotkeys to further improve programming efficiency.