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1) do i need all 5 version of the Peripheral Driver Library?
It is totally your choice because the Peripheral Driver Library (PDL) versions install in parallel and do not remove their older counterparts. Most of the code examples we provide mostly require a minimum for PDL 3.1.0, so I would suggest downloading all the versions from 3.1.0 onwards. This will ensure that the code examples run out of the box for you without any modifications. However, note that you could just have the latest 3.1.2 version if you do not want any older versions.
if not, what is the best way to safely remove prior version and all of their parts?
and all the registry connections they make that would be extraneous after removal?
PDL installs in parallel with the older versions. So, you need not remove it. But in case you want to, you can make use of the "Uninstall" option in Update Manager to safely delete that version. That will safely delete the registry connections as well.
2) what happens when i click the update button for PSoC programmer. I think its safe to say it updates, but what happens to the old version?
does it get removed? do i have to remove it? is it safe to remove it?
In the case of PSoC Programmer, you cannot have multiple versions of it. It uninstalls the previous version and installs the new one. It does this automatically for you when you click "Update" in the Update Manager. You don't have to remove it manually.
3) what does the configure button do?
why is the configure button live for all of the installed software?
Sometimes even though the software is installed, it does not work correctly, it might have files that are corrupted. In those cases, you can use the "Configure" option in Update Manager to repair your install and get the software working again.
Each of the software versions come with a release note which provides information on what's new with the release, API reference manuals which describe the APIs available with that release, etc. If you are just using the latest PDL version, you can just uninstall all the older versions. That way you have just one release note, and API reference manual. We do not automatically do a cleanup of software. The update manager is a handy tool that we provide that lets you manage the versions you need and uninstall those you don't. It is left to the user to decide.
Some of the software versions install parallelly (like PDL) while some uninstall the previous one and install the latest (like PSoC Programmer). In the former case, it does not remove the older stuff because if your source code uses the older version of the PDL, uninstalling it would cause problems to you. A lot of users usually have version control in place and forcing them to use the latest one would cause havoc.
But in the latter case, it removes the old stuff because it a tool for programming/debugging rather than something that can affect your application development. PSoC Creator though allows parallel installation because newer versions could require you to update to newer components etc. which might change your application. So, we allow multiple versions to be installed parallelly.
Hope this answers your query