Microchip ICD2, ICD3, and PICkit3 debuggers are excellent low cost solutions for in circuit emulation and firmware development. In general all you need to do is include an ICSP connector in your board design and you can then plug a debugger on your board and be able to download code, set break points, look at register settings, and run. Once your have developed a working design and want to program parts in quantity you need a way to do this easily. You can plug parts into your prototype board but unless it has a high quality socket you are limited to a low number of programming cycles. In addition a standard socket means you have to pre-bend the IC leads to fit and then risk over-bending the leads accidentally.
The K1EL programming adapter allows you to address these issues for a low cost. A ZIF (zero insertion force socket) allows you to easily install an IC for programming. We use high quality Textool sockets which last for thousands of programming cycles. Only 300 mil DIP PICs are supported, 8 pin parts up to 28 pin parts. Two programming schemes are supported, VPP on pin 1 or VPP on pin 3. The configuration is changed by switching two DIP switches.
We like to get as much out of a design as possible so we added three pushbuttons, four LEDs, and a custom circuit area. This allows you perform tests after programming or use the programmer as a quick and easy development board. All PIC pins are labled so its very easy to add jumper wires to configure the board.