Since roughly 2010, I have been using (formerly) CadSoft’s EagleCAD electronic design automation software quite happily. It took a lot of getting used to (it had a very steep learning curve) but I became quite good at using Eagle. I came to really enjoy the EDA software and would use it to design all kinds of things. I was able to secure a student license thanks to a generous licensing program which allows College and University students full-featured license for free. The free version of EagleCAD allows only 2 layer designs and board sizes of up to 80 cm². A student license allows 16 layers and 4 m² of board area.
As my abilities and interests matured, I began to grow unhappy with with the pre-made libraries. I wanted to create something with integration with my chosen supplier, so I started to make my own library, hand-drawing every single component that I used in my designs. Using datasheets and mechanical drawings, I drew a large list of components that I had manufacturer and distributor part numbers, hyper-links to datasheets, descriptions, latest pricing, you name it! I am quite proud of my private library.
During the initial stages of my library build-out, I briefly tried a new open-source EDA known as KiCad. As I had already committed to the learning curve of EagleCAD, I did not give KiCad a whole lot of effort because I found KiCad to be very clunky and amateur. Having tried a few previous versions, I gave 4.0.5 a little more of an effort knowing my prejudice. I was still not impressed.
Saturday morning, I decided to fire up Eagle to start working on a new project: a GPS disciplined crystal oscillator. Happily working away, adding in new custom components, I developed the schematic until the point that I was ready to start the layout process. Luckily, I begin rough PCB layouts early on in my design so that I can discover errors, optimizations, and to quite frankly, just get started.
Estimating a board size, I tried to start the layout process only to find out that my version of (now) Autodesk’s Eagle (9.5) had reverted to the free version. No problem I thought, if the software hasn’t “called home” recently, it defaults back to the free version until it can validate your license. In the past, I’ve had to validate my license so I logged back in to the Autodesk site and to my horror, I discovered that my license was revoked.
It is totally fair that my license is no longer valid; I am no longer a student (I have not been for some time now) and so I can not fault Autodesk for this. What I do take issue with is their business model.
For me to continue enjoying the use of the EagleCAD software as I have been, I only have one option: subscription based licensing. I despise this trend in software. I do not mind purchasing software that I use; I am happy to pay a one-time fee to have a stable version of a platform. A one-time purchase for access is not an option. For the current version that I was using (9.5) I would have been willing to pay a one-time fee of $1000. I see the value in that. My only option now however is to pay $645 per year ($80/month) or $1740 for 3 years. I simply do not see the value in their “super bundle” that they offer.
More importantly, I am NOT willing to perpetually license access to a program in which I have spent hundreds of hours working, only to effectively lose access to my intellectual property. I see this as little more than extortion. There are alternatives out there, even paid ones which do not emply predatory business models. If you do not support subscription based models, I would urge you to do as I have done and abandon companies which chose this path. Consumers have far more power than they are aware of; it is time to leverage this power!
I promptly downloaded KiCad version 5.1.5_3 with little hope to be impressed. I knew that this time I would have to commit to actually learning the software, to take the time necessary to watch and/or read tutorials on its use. During the lengthy download process (1.1GB @ 5Mbps DSL plus another 486MB for FreeCAD), I took the time to read a few tutorials on using KiCad, most importantly a “quick start guide” because the workflow differences between EagleCAD and KiCad are quite significant. I decided that it was finally time to master this free, open source software that so many people seem to love.
I should point out that KiCad has long been available on various Linux platforms (such as Ubuntu) as well as MacOS. Aside from Microsoft Word, abandoning EagleCAD is the second last step towards no longer having a need to run Windows as an OS. I am one step further to committing 100% to Linux.
The short version: I am glad I gave KiCad another try! It is fantastic.
I have been using KiCad for a few days now and have gotten used to (most of) the differences between KiCad and EagleCAD. As I am more accustomed to EagleCAD, I still find myself missing certain features, functions, etc. but I am resolved to master KiCad.
I am so impressed with KiCad that I have to fight the urge to write up my own quick-start guide. My love to teach / impart knowledge can sometime be a curse; I find myself spending too much time documenting my projects and not enough time actually working on them. I have to remind myself that the project is not yet done, so my time is best served completing my own work first. Besides, there are a ton of resources already available.
What I will say is that I never appreciated the power of 3D rendering a design while working on it. This amazing tool has forever changed my layout methodology and will very likely save me a lot of time. It is so cool to be able to see a rendered version of the project as you work on it. This allows me to spot problems sooner; modify over-all layout, so many things!
I’ve got to say, the more I use KiCad, the more I fall in love with it.
I have even found the library process to be better than the Eagle one; there are features I miss about Eagle but I am sure that I can find creative ways to fill those gaps.
I suppose the whole point of this post is to emplore you to try KiCad if you haven’t already adopted it. Yes, I get it .. there is value in sticking with what you know. If you have a system that works for you then great. If however, you find yourself faced with paying what amounts to recurring access fees, perhaps it is time to take a (second?) look at KiCad. I am certainly glad that I have!