Don Prescott wrote: : Re the freepcb software. Haven't tried it, but this kinda homegrown : "I was dissatisfied with the low-cost products on the market and : decided to write my own - and here it is free" is great if you're a : member of the beard and sandals brigade who like playing with these : raw, unsupported, buggy, pieces of software developed by one man bands : in there dens to amuse themselves in their retirements.
That's what folks said about Linux about five years ago. Those that said it look like backward-looking trogledytes now.
The advantages of free/open-source tools are these:
- Full versions usually downloadable for free. No cripple or nagware. Just download and start designing.
- Documented ASCII file formats. The vendor isn't trying to lock you in to his tool set by sticking you with a proprietary binary format. (Express PCB is a particularly nasty example of this, but Protel & Orcad do it too). Therefore, you have complete control over your design. If a component becomes displaced waaaay off screen, you can open up your design with a text editor, find the component, and fix the problem.
- Protection for legacy designs. At work I have inherited a CadStar design done back in the middle 1990s. Unfortunately, the CadStar install media I have is old & worn out, and doesn't work with Windows XP wayway. I have no budget to spend thousands of $$$ to buy a modern seat of CadStar just to open up one stinking PCB. How do I modify/update/fix a design captured in an obsolete & unsupported tool? Basically, I'm screwed. Thanks, Zuken! Thanks, Microsoft!
With free/open-source EDA tools, legacy support is typically built into the tool. The developers don't have the motivation to keep users on the upgrade-for-cash treadmill, so they don't play these kinds of games. Also, if the tool has changed too much to read an old design, you can find an old version of the tool, freely download it, and then edit your old design happily.
- You get the code. Although most people don't want to hack, there are many designers out there who know enough about software developement that they feel comfortable about making customizations and improvements to the open-source codebase. They do this because it gives them a design advantage -- they can automate or control tasks which the rest of use have to carfully click through repeatedly. I communicate with several of them, and more are joining the gEDA project regularly. You just can't do this with closed-source, proprietary software.
- Finally, many projects are quite mature & very usable for low and mid-level designs. The gEDA stuff -- schematic capture & netlisting
-- is simply great! The various open-source spices (ngspice, tclspice) are very usable, albeit CLI driven. Icarus Verilog is mature, and commonly used in industry. And PCB, well, its user interface takes some getting used to, but it does the job, and I correspond with folks who have done 8 layer boards & beyond with it.
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: In short, probably OK if you want to while away the hours playing with : a hobbyist's toolset. Useless if you're trying to design a real : product that's gotta go out the door on time......
People are using this stuff in industry. Open your eyes and look around. You'll see more of it as time goes on.