Eagle PCB Layout is around for many years and with their freeware 80x100mm licensee attracted lot of Open Source Enthusiasts to use it.
If you check the OSHW projects which people release probably 80% of them are made with Eagle for the same reason. When Eagle was available for free, nothing comparable existed, the open source tools were very immature and not so easy to use, then once you start using one CAD you get used to it and you make your own libraries, scripts, ULPs and you are tight bind to it so you do not want to move to other platform.
CarSoft (Eagle creators) had this wise idea that you can download and use the freeware version to view big projects and to edit and modify small projects with size 100×80 and up to two layers which in most of the cases is enough for the mass Arduino community.
Working with complex boards like OLinuXino is another story – the boards are 2-4-6 and some 8 layers, very complex, some of them big and exceeding the PCB limits for the freeware and for the non-commercial EUR 100 licensee (limited to 160×100 4 layers).
The CAD tools are the major difference between Open Source Software and Open Source Hardware. With FOSS to start contribute you just download your open source compiler and you can reproduce, modify, re-compile, debug the code.
With Open Source Hardware the sources are edited with special CAD tools, which may cost from free to 100 000 EUR.
You would not expect to have many contributors if your CAD cost EUR 100 000 would you?
Even now with Eagle where the full licensee cost EUR 1200 there are mostly companies working on commercial projects which decide to spend these money, and generally releasing OLinuXino using Eagle CAD just help Eagle owners to sell more licensees 🙂
The more Open Source Projects we do the more I think that moving to Open Source CAD would help Open source community in several ways:
- increasing the base of the people who could modify the projects as the open source CAD tools are free to obtain
- the selected CAD tool will gain more users and community, which will help to fix bugs, add new features, libraries and move forward and improve.
Having taking all this into consideration we have to select open source tool to migrate to.
Out of the list https://www.olimex.com/PCB/DesignTools/ we have check gEDA, PCB, kiCAD and it seems only the later have some improvement with the years.
So we are going to evaluate kiCAD as tool which to use for our future released OSHW boards.
I know this process will be painful and will cost us *lot* of money due to the time spent on re-training of our PCB developers, the decreased productivity of working with new and unknown tool, time spent to transfer the developed many years libraries and scripts/tools from Eagle, but the final result will be more open and community friendly product.
We may fail with the migration, but it worth to try at least