Microsoft Gets Hacker Friendly

You don’t often hear hackers say a lot of good things about Microsoft. Sure, you might use Windows, especially if you have one of those embarrassing day jobs. But at night in a hacker’s secret lab, you are likely to find something that looks more like Unix, even if it has a penguin, a piece of fruit, or even a green robot on the label. But we’ll give Microsoft credit. Their new MakeCode site will be a great boon for educators, students, and anyone who wants to learn how to code. What’s more is they are joined by a lot of familiar hacker faces including AdaFruit, Sparkfun, and Seeed Studios.

The idea is to have tutorials and if that was all there was to it, this would be a short post. But what is really entertaining about the site is that there are web-based emulators for all the hardware so you can actually do the projects in your browser with no extra hardware. You can also do your own projects from scratch.

It will dismay some, but the default interface is for a blocks language where you drag items around. But if that bothers you, you can click the Javascript button at any time. You can even switch back and forth. For example, here’s a little fake radar servo, complete with a blinking light and a beep tone:

And here’s the same thing in Javascript:

let state = false
loops.forever(function () {
 music.playTone(494, music.beat(BeatFraction.Eighth))
 if (state) {
 } else {
 state = !(state)

When you create something like a servo, an LED, or a temperature sensor, the simulator automatically connects one up for you. You can also download the code for your target board. Right now you can use a micro:bit, an Adafruit board, a Seeed Grove Zero, or a Sparkfun Inventor’s kit. There’s also Minecraft, Chibi Chip, and Cue if you are feeling adventurous.

The blocks aren’t bad and the Javascript editor is actually pretty sophisticated. If you get the bug for block coding, you can try 3D modeling with it. You can even program the Raspberry Pi that way if you like.

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