In my quest to study microcontrollers, I wanted to give Atmel a shot. I did some digging to find that Atmel has some great stuff out there that is free. They have a great studio (AVR Studio 4/5) that allows you to write Assembly or C programs. Once you install AVR Studio and write a C program, trying to compile it won’t work right out of the box, but it directs you to WinAVR. It needs that to compile C programs.
I wrote a small program to test the simulator. Yes, a sim!!! Totally cool. While I won’t be using Atmel any time soon, I wanted to be sure that it gets some light. I think that I would choose to use Atmel if my plate weren’t already full with school obligations.
Check out how easy it can be by looking at this sample program: avr-libc: A simple project
There is plenty of help at the avr-libc location. I believe that even beginners can get up to speed quickly with the online manual.
You can find programmers for purchase at Atmel.com.