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Re: gEDA-user: Notes from this evening's Free Dog meeting


Thanks so much for sharing the content of your meeting with us.  I
myself would love to attend but the cost of a flight to Boston is a bit
steep even for a Free Dog meeting.  Your summary provides an excellent
way to share some of your collective knowledge with the rest of the

Thanks again,
David Carr

In about two years I hope to be a regular attendee at Free Dog meetings
--- assuming a certain institvte will let me...

Stuart Brorson wrote:

>Several people have asked what we do at Free Dog meetings . . . .
>besides hang out and drink coffee, that is.  Since the 
>topic this evening may be of interest to everybody on this list, I've
>put together a short description of the meeting we just had (8.4.2005).
>Four people showed up, Ales, John Luciani, my buddy John (who doesn't
>participate on this list), and me (Stuart).  We initially just talked
>about using Scilab & Octave instead of Matlab at John's place of
>business, and chit-chat about other things.
>We soon turned to the main topic on the agenda:  Look at various
>alternative EDA pacakges.  (Alternative to gEDA/gaf & PCB, that is).
>I started up XCircuit, but we didn't play with it much.  It still used
>the old X11 widget set, and I couldn't figure out how place a
>component with it.  We all agreed that it is more of a drawing program
>than a schematic capture program.  John Luciani remarked that XCircuit
>outputs nice Postscript, and then we moved on.
>Next we started up Kicad, which several people have mentioned on this
>list.  Ales had installed it on his laptop, and he took us on a test
>Kicad is a marvelous program for board design, and will give
>gEDA/gaf/PCB a real run for its money.  It has a (working) project
>manager (unlike geda, which is currently broken), and has a schematic
>capture program tightly bundled with an amazing layout editor.
>Overall the UI is very polished, and (arguable) looks more
>professional than gEDA.  Here are some notes I took while we played:
>*  Selection is strange.  Clicking on an object doesn't select it.
>   Rather, you need to do a mouse drag through the object.  This is
>   not natural.
>*  Net connections require separate component (connection) placed.
>   This can be a PITA.
>*  Attributes aren't easily movable.  However, all attributes of an
>   object are accessible for editing, unlike gEDA/gaf.  (For example,
>   you can't change the color of a net by clicking on it in gEDA/gaf,
>   but you can in kicad.
>*  Netnames -- how are they placed?
>*  We tried SPICE netlisting.  Seems to work correctly once you figure
>   out how to use program (not hard).  How to embedd vendor netlists?
>*  No keyboard shortcuts.
>*  Pans during drawing.  This is nice.
>*  Can create netlist from within program.
>*  Limited quantity of netlist formats available.  No separate
>   netlister, and no ability to write new netlist backends.
>*  Program crashed when trying to write to a non-writable file.
>*  It took us a while to figure out how to create a multi-page
>   schematic.  Will a multi-page schematic netlist correctly?
>*  Pins are rigidly defined.  Can't define new pin attributes.
>*  Beautiful UI.  Much better thought-out & logical than PCB.
>*  Newpcb max layers = 16.
>*  Separate footprint editor very nice.  (PCB requires you to edit
>   footprint directly on the layout page.)
>*  Footprint libs -- like symbol libs -- are single file, not one
>   footprint per file.  This makes footprint creation via scripts more
>   involved.   Not sure this is a good thing.
>*  3D view of board is very cool, but is probably is pure fluff --
>   3D viewer can't do anything useful like report board dimensions or
>   component heights.
>*  Gencam supported.  This is precursor to ODB++  (I think -- SDB.)
>   This is very cool since ODB++ is supposed to be the next-gen file
>   format superseding Gerber.
>*  DRC checker seems to work, both in real time as well as when
>   invoked at end of layout.
>*  Does it support backannotation?
>My general conclusion (my opinion only) is that Kicad is an
>outstanding program.  Its UI is almost as good as gschem's (I like
>gschem's better) and is better than PCB's because it is more
>logical and consistent.  For example, in PCB to export Gerbers you
>need to do "file -> print" and then change target to Gerbers/RS-273X
>(or whatever).  In newpcb you do something like "file -> export
>Gerber", which is what you'd expect to do.
>Philosophically, Kicad is different from the gEDA
>Suite in that Kicad provides a much more integrated board design
>environment than gEDA.  You never need to drop to the command line to
>do anything.  GEDA, on the other hand, is really more of a suite of
>individual components which share some file formats and work
>together.  If you like the approach of an integrated design
>environment, then Kicad is a reasonable choice for doing designs.
>OTOH, if you like the "unix philosophy" of having separate programs
>which implement specific features, then gEDA wins.
>One issue with Kicad is that symbol and footprint creation doesn't
>seem to be as nicely scriptable as with gEDA/gaf & PCB.  The problem
>is that Kicad has symbol and footprint libs which hold multiple
>symbols, instead of holding each symbol/footprint in an individual
>file.  We talked about why you would have multiple symbols per lib
>file, but couldn't figure out why that was preferable, except that it
>gave you fewer individual files.
>Finally, Kicad doesn't build nicely, i.e. it doesn't use the
>GNU build system (i.e. configure etc.), and certain paths &
>directories are hard-coded into the Makefiles, so newbies will have a
>problem with that.
>Personally, I won't move to Kicad since I already know gEDA.  I also
>like the "unix style" of having one program do only one thing.  This
>promotes "best of breed" solutions for each task.  OTOH, if somebody
>whines about gEDA not being integrated enough, then I will point to
>Kicad as an alternative.
>After spending over an hour playing with Kicad, we tried out Electric,
>which Ales had also installed on his laptop.  Electric is now a Java
>program.  I had tried installing it on my laptop and running it with
>gcj, but had failed miserably.  Ales had installed the whole Sun JDK
>on his laptop and was able to run Electric successfully.  Electric ran
>& looked OK, but it seems optimized for chip design, and not board
>design.  We played with it for a little while, and then gave up
>because nobody amongst us really knew anything about chip design.
>Maybe I'll try running Magic at some Free Dog meeting in the future.
>After that, John Luciani passed out some info about his latest Perl
>creations:  A set of scripts which handle BOM management.  John's
>scripts are waaaaaay more advanced than the simple BOM generation
>provided by "gnetlist -g bom" We talked about the problems involved
>with parts procurement & how that can be integrated into the design
>cycle upfront, instead of at the end of the design phase.  This led
>into a discussion about PRM and ERP software, which I think is a
>possible next step for gEDA.
>Then we broke up for the evening.  The next Free Dog will likely be a
>special event co-incident with the Embedded Systems Conference in
>Boston around the middle of September.  Stay tuned for an