Since I have only worked with VeriStand 2014 I am not familiar with all the changes and differences in the following versions.
Is there a particular release that the community considers "stable" and would recommend due to for example useful features?
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Generally, the version before the current release is pretty stable as it would have known issues report and patches released. VeriStand 2020 R3 is out, so I would maybe look at VeriStand 2018SP1 or 2019 R3 . Search for the known issues as well for extra info.
The UI is going to be very different in the later versions, but the core functionality is the same. I can't remember the exact version where it changes, but the new UI will be based in the VeriStand UI Manager. 2017 has the old style and new UI Manager, but the old style has been dropped in later versions, I think from 2018, but I don't remember exactly.
I guess most of the new functionality is around Python Integration and ASAM XIL, as well as better support for Simulink.
I'm the Product Owner for VeriStand in NI Software R&D.
We have added a number of new UI elements starting in VeriStand 2019. However we didn't burn the bridges to the Legacy UI that you would be familiar with if coming from VeriStand 2014 so you should be as comfortable in newer versions as you were in older versions.
I wanted to emphasize one point: the latest release we have is going to be your best bet -- not because of the new UI which should improve your workflow through the product -- but because we made a significant, specific investment to reduce our Bug Backlog from VeriStand 2019 thru VeriStand 2020 R3. If stability is what you are after, the latest version of VeriStand is going to be what you want.
Also we made significant internal tooling improvements in how we build VeriStand as of late, such that if you run into some real trouble and required a patch from NI R&D, it is dramatically easier/simpler/cheaper for us to patch VeriStand 202x versions than it was VeriStand 2019 and earlier. Also worth noting that NI Product R&D supports only the last 4 years of Custom Devices built and maintained at https://github.com/ni -- another reason to get current with VeriStand.
One more detail: when upgrading minor versions (VeriStand xxxx R1 -> R3 for example) you are not forced to upgrade Custom Devices or recompile models and such. We strive to make these painless upgrades.
If you decide to upgrade, and have feedback positive or negative on the product, you can provide that feedback in product via the 'smiley face' command group in the upper-right portion of VeriStand. It gets routed directly to R&D and we read every one of these things. It is really important for us to understand where people are getting tripped up so that we can improve the product!