I've had a lot of fun developing dozens of projects (professional and hobby) using 8-bit Microchip microcontrollers.
But the unbelievably inferior quality of Microchip's development tools has finally driven me to look elsewhere. And their forum is a disaster too. You cannot preview your posts and it removes all of the new lines, compressing your post into a monolithic block of text. I am deeply embarrassed for those guys.
I can wring bugs out of their tools like water from a wet sponge.
So anyway: here's my initial questions:
1. Is the AVR Dragon adequate? I may end up with the AVR ONE, but its cost is steep for a tentative first step.
2. Are there user guides for the AVR Dragon and other debugger/programmers? The little website blurbs I found on them did not tell me much. The lack of user guides may be my biggest issue with Atmel so far. Click on the Documents Tab at http://www.atmel.com/tools/AVRDR... and you get "Zero results were found. Please change selection and try again." Atmel, seriously, is this the first impression you want to make??
For example, does the Dragon implement an RS-232 interface that I could use to put out messages that would help debugging? How many breakpoints does the Dragon have? Can I see the schematic for the Dragon?
I often made specialized programming cables with super tiny connectors; where do I learn about the programming interface?
3. Where can I learn more about how the better debuggger/programmers have more features?
4. If I get an STK500 or STK600, would I still need a programmer/debugger? This is not entirely clear in Atmel's website. And, I initially buy just an STK600, can I do anything? Yes, I know I must buy the adapter card, but what adapters does it come with?
5. The STK600 has a modular approach which seems cool. Some of my projects would likely use the ATtiny25/45/85, so I would buy the adapter card for that 8-pin tiny's. The low res photos of those boards do not tell me if I can use DIP's, SOIC's, or??? Again, being able to download a manual sure would be nice.
6. Do any of the kits/tools have sockets for programming SOIC, SSOP, QFN or other SMD packages?
7. The forums at forum.atmel.com were virutally useless in two ways. 1) There are only two (Touch and Crypto. 2) Access to them was very slow-- in two ways. The first way was that each click, like to change to the next page of posts, took 20 to 25 seconds (when everything else on the net is a about 1 second with my cable modem connection). The other is that a day after registering, I still cannot post. Is that forum of any use or is this the place?