P3D v4 XML handwriting or using ACE

I wouldn't use handwriting, because then you have to go through the trouble of finding an OCR that can detect your the letters of your handwritten code. :duck:

But to be more serious: I think the ACE tool is a good way to get familiar with HOW the XML syntax works, but sooner or later you'll find that you're waaaaay better of writing your own code directly in XML schema.

I use visual studio for everything code related: XML, C++ and AIR file.
Well I’m using VSCode for xml and all the “light coding” stuff and Regular vs for heavy (c# and c++ which I’m starting to learn). I rly recommend VSCode (light, you can put it on ssd for blazing fast performance and more). I think I would use ACE first and then start with xml. Of course I would like c++ but that just too difficult...

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It took me 3 years to understand XML and write it properly and I'm still learning stuff daily...
At the other hand it took me perhaps 6 months or something more and I was able to write descent code in C#, based on that I would suggest you put your efforts in learning C. For what I see the future with new sims to come, XML might be of no good any-longer...but lets wait and see the new SDK of MSFS2020 we will know for sure...
Yeah it’s true but c++ (for P3d gauges) has many things that I can’t understand and the SDK doesn’t help that much... also if you learn c++ you will have to learn also D2D or GDI+ or D3D11. Which is another complicated step in the process of making gauges in c++.

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+1 for handwriting,

I learning C++/ GDI+ in 2 years along with, SDK, modeling, painting, flight model.
I'm no good with XML, can't build complex xml code, only simple xml function I can.

for gauge development xml have huge source and sample, easier to catch up.
C++ gauge development source sample are just few. but another source that can be use that have basic or similar for gauge dev are many across the internet.
C++ are basic stuff, you can go with 2D graphic interface or 3D graphics interface. no need to go all stuff.

only C++ function it can drive gauge animation,
GDI+ or D2D if you need 2D graphical interface i.e. screen display
Direct3D if you need 3D graphical interface i.e. TAWS
can read/write data from many format i.e. binary data, XML, TXT.

all is up to you, with hardwork. C++ or XML just a way you go through, both can give similar result.
The thing is: you can't really get around XML if you want to develop for P3D/FSX, since it's the only way to animate things. So developing an understanding for the awkward syntax is beneficial in that regards.
On the other hand it will become obsolete as more advanced platforms get released. I would be flabbergasted if fs2020 supported the old XML scheme.