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National Instruments Returns to Its Roots with LabView NXG

National Instruments Returns to Its Roots with LabView NXG

New edition of the classic product is “focused on people who need to program, not on programmers.”

In one of its biggest rollouts in years, National Instruments (NI) said it is returning to its roots and introducing a simple test and measurement product that’s aimed at capturing engineer customers who aren’t programmers.

Known as LabView NXG 1.0, the new product builds on the founders’ original vision of creating an approachable, graphical environment for users. It comes 31 years after the introduction of the test and measurement giant’s flagship product, called LabView. “The target customer of LabView NXG is the one who looked at LabView in the last few years and said, ‘That’s just too hard,’” Jeff Phillips, technical program lead for National Instruments, told Design News.

At NIWeek, National Instruments rolled out a simpler, more approachable edition of LabView, called LabView NXG. (Source: National Instruments)

With LabView NXG, National Instruments plans to address that issue with a heavy dose of graphical visualization. “You can see the hardware being visualized in the product – not just as a node with a reference number but as a box that looks like the hardware, sitting on a table, with documentation and annotation,” Phillips said. “Everywhere throughout Labview NXG, you can see data on a graph, and you can right click and capture that data into a data pane that stores it in your project.”

With the intro of the new product, the company is also focusing on interactive workflow and the concept of graphical programming. “We’ve worked extremely hard to maintain the semantics of graphical programming while improving the user experience along the way,” Phillips added.

For NI, the rollout of LabView NXG is a bit of deva vu. The company originally introduced LabView in 1986, with the idea of giving “spreadsheet-type simplicity” to the complex world of test and measurement. LabView ultimately grew into the foundation of NI, which now does about $1.2 billion in business annually. Millions of people, ranging from engineers and technicians to college students and even high school students, have used LabView over the decades. NI still has hundreds of thousands of industrial users on its active service contracts, and many more in the academic arena, it said.

The LabView product has evolved over the years, however, shifting slightly away from its original vision. Starting in about 2003, it took a turn toward the embedded market and added features for those users. But while that expanded the product’s reach and boosted its appeal for throngs of new users, some of LabView’s well-known simplicity was lost. “The approachability of the product for new users became an afterthought,” Phillips recalled. “And we really started to feel the burden with those new users. We saw our success rate with them start to decline.”

Phillips said that the intent of NXG is to re-capture that spirit among the new user community. It is expected to be popular, as it always has been, among engineers developing medical products and white goods, as well as those doing R&D testing. “The focus of LabView NXG is on the people who need to program, not on programmers,” he said.

The company continues to offer the current version of LabView, as well, separately from the new NXG product.

On stage at NIWeek, NI demonstrated LabView NXG by quickly measuring the pressure wave off a cowboy’s bullwhip. (Source: Design News)

NI announced LabView NXG this week at NIWeek, an annual event taking place in Austin, TX. As if to put an exclamation on the rollout, NI did a demonstration with a real-life San Antonio cowboy, using LabView NXG along with a PXIe 4480 sound and vibration module to quickly and simply analyze the pressure wave off the cowboy’s bullwhip, while approximately 3,000 engineers looked on.

In a separate session, Jeff Kodosky, company co-founder and “father of LabView,” talked about the original “spreadsheet” vision and the subsequent evolution of the technology. “We marketed LabView as the non-programming way to automate measurements,” he said.

Jeff Kodosky, the “father of LabView,” explained that LabView NXG is consistent with the original vision for the product. (Source: Design News)

This week, NI engineers said the analogy is still relevant, even though the current technology bears no similarity to the spreadsheet. “The metaphor of the spreadsheet is still the foundation of what we’re trying to do with LabView NXG,” Phillips said.  

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 33 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.

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