Eagle PCB Design Software and its legacy in the Open Hardware Community – An interview

By on September 24, 2013

Created with The GIMPEagle PCB Design Software it’s hugely adopted across the Open Source Software community: surely many of you already used Eagle to create boards and circuitry and the Eagle format has become sort of a standard in the maker community to share design openly.

Because of this huge penetration in the community, we decided to dig a little more in deep in Eagle Software plans and views to allow our readers to have a more detailed glance about the software future.

For this reason we interviewed CadSoft Computer GmbH managing director Thomas Liratsch*.

[Open Electronics] Hello Thomas Did you expect this success and adoption? What feature generated this success from your point of view?

[Thomas Liratsch] I wouldn’t say that it was expected, but it has certainly been of great help. Since the early days of development of EAGLE, CadSoft has always offered some sort of free version of the program that can be used for evaluation or non commercial purposes.  In addition to this, we have hosted a community based sense in which users can feel comfortable participating and interacting with our developers and support staff.  Our newsgroup has been, and still is, a great source of ideas that our community used to suggest ideas for future versions. Without this support of our users, who put a lot of heart’s blood into EAGLE, CadSoft would not have been so successful over the last 25 years.

EAGLE itself has proven to be a great product that is available on all operating system. Its stable execution and logical sense of interface do make it an obvious choice for many corporate environments.

 

[Open Electronics] Can you tell us a little bit about the ecosystem that was born around Eagle within time? What are the ways for the community to provide value in exchange of access to the software (plugin, libraries, etc…)?

[Thomas Liratsch] EAGLE was born as vision of an engineer to find a software solution for Schematic and PCB at a reasonable cost.  25 years ago, there wasn’t a practical and affordable program available. So he decided to develop his own – keeping in mind that the idea is to offer a stable program that will provide a solution to the user, from concept to final product at an affordable price.

From this vision EAGLE was born, Easily Applicable Graphical Layout is not only a program, it’s a community based application that listens to contribution from the users. IMHO the EAGLE community is unique. Our customers help us in so many different areas. Since our early days we receive faxes, emails and phone call for ideas for future versions. The developing team would survey these ideas and suggestions and do their best to implement those of greater demand. EAGLE has evolved greatly for the past 25 years, but we have been certain to keep the quality of product that our users have always expected. Many changes have been done to increase EAGLE’s capabilities but the changes are subtle that new and old user can easily adapt.

EAGLE users have always been contributing libraries which can be shared by our online mediums. For the past 10 years, in which ‘User Language Program’ also known as ULP’s, was implemented.  A ULP is a C-Like language that the user can use to expand the capabilities of EAGLE.  ULP’s such as importing images or exporting particular file formats have been done. This truly expands and accommodates the user for personal implementation.  For the past 2 years, since the release of EAGLE v6, we adopted an ASCII XML format of file structure for Schematics, Boards and Libraries.  This latest feature allows the community to adapt scripts or programs that can import or make changes to their designs. We expect to see many more open source programs to be able to import this file structure.  One good example is, that last year we noticed an Android Application that allows users to import there design file and search for components. Additionally, we maintain a news server that is freely available. We find a large number of EAGLE customers writing there and offering support for other EAGLE users. Their high quality answers to questions about any EAGLE related subjects help our support staff a lot.

 

[Open Electronics]  What kind of co-design strategies do you adopt to be sure that the Eagle you design is the software that the community of users need?

[Thomas Liratsch] There is a combination of strategies used to vision new implementation to EAGLE.  Our developers monitor the “Suggestions and Ideas” section of our newsgroup.  The newsgroup is successfully mirrored on element14.com.  Developer and support team have integrated a communication channel that allows them to consistently provide brainstorming for ideas and tools that will most benefit in newer version.

 

[Open Electronics]   What community building efforts are you putting in place? I’ve seen that you “sponsor” some interesting initiatives, is that the main way you confront with the community? Would you like to mention other relevant strategies?

[Thomas Liratsch] For the past year we have created and supported a facebook page.  This page will inform users of our latest news such as tutorial videos and 3rd write ups that have been contributed by supporters. CadSoft has been hosting a series of webinars that introduce new users how to use EAGLE, 3D Viewing, and Using EAGLE in an educational environment and many more.  These news and information are cross referenced with our twitter account as well.

We also sponsor many educational institution clubs that participate in design challenges such as under water and solar powered vehicles.  This keeps technology at its edge and many of these design files are made available to public.

As the trend of open hardware becomes more of a factor in electronics, more and more designers are using EAGLE to make designs in public format that can be easily shared among other users.

A new initiative that CadSoft will support is the Start Up community. As you know, EAGLE is very popular in the Maker scene and to sponsor now these incubators and Start Up initiatives is the logical next step in our strategy.

 

[Open Electronics] The Free Trial (we changed the name from Freemium) model that you choose allowed Eagle to become a precious resource: have you ever considered switching to an Open Source development model for Eagle?

[Thomas Liratsch] The concept of ‘Open Source’ has come up in the past in the forum. The current business model of CadSoft doesn’t really fit this model since we do offer free support to our users.

CadSoft has done quite a creative effort to implement tools that allow users to custom EAGLE and manipulate its files since they are in a non-binary format.

 

[Open Electronics ] What’s your plan for the future of Eagle? Are you thinking to expand your reach and offering with new features?

[Thomas Liratsch] The last three years were the most successful in CadSoft’s history and we are growing at a fast pace. Of course we are always thinking of expanding our reach of EAGLE users with the implementation of new features.  This will never stop; change is the only variable of success in this market. But we also need to juggle the given resources and keep an eye on the real needs of our users. At this time the consideration of User Interface improvements to adapt to the latest OS trends, and the implementation of new features that will benefit fast reliable designs as well as major Router improvements are to be expected in the near future with the release of EAGLE v7.

 

[Open Electronics ] Are there particular aspects that you want to mention to the Open Source Electronics community?

[Thomas Liratsch] We would like to say to the Open Source Community “THANK YOU, THANK YOU and THANK YOU”.  At CadSoft Computer we are greatly honored and humbled that the community has made EAGLE their program of choice.  We would like to assure the community they can continue to expect the quality of program at the highest level of creativity by our teams to provide them a product they should expect.

*Liratsch joined CadSoft Computer in August 2010, he worked as the European Head of Service Sales at Siemens Wind Power in Denmark and prior to this role he was running the business of Ansoft Corp., a leading EDA simulation software company, in Central and Eastern Europe as the Country Manager Germany. Prior to this management role at Ansoft, Thomas was working in several Sales and Marketing positions in the Software and Electronics Industry. He started his career in Sales at Spoerle Electronic what is today a part of the Arrow group. Thomas holds two Master degrees, one in Business Administration and one in Intercultural Communication and Cooperation and was living during his career in San Francisco where he also worked for Sybase.

About Simone Cicero

Simone Cicero is a blogger (at meedabyte.com), strategist & speaker. Simone is also a long time Open Source advocate and Open Source Electronics editor. Follow him on twitter at @meedabyte
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  • Justin Shaw

    Even though many open hardware projects are made with EAGLE, I’d venture to guess that there many many open hardware projects that violate the non-commercial terms of the $169 (closed source) licence CadSoft offers.

    I just found out the cost for a small business licence (3 seats) that WyoLum might use to develop playing card size PCBs: $1,230. I’d rather spend that money supporting the Open Hardware Summit or WyoLum Innovation Grant. And that licence will not even allow us to design the boards for our flag ship: ClockTHREEjr as it is much large than a playing card.

    When the Open Hardware definition was first created KiCAD was usable (we used it) but still very rough around the edges. Now with support from CERN (the super collider) KiCAD is getting better all the time. This last week Anool lead a workshop with 7 novices that culminated with each student shipping off a custom design for their project to OSHPark. KiCAD worked very well as is a great complement to the Open Hardware philosophy.

    Why pirate Eagle (and I know some of you are) when you can join the UN-limited KiCAD community and be 100% open source?

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  • Kenneth Scharf

    Eagle’s non-commericial license is a reasonable way for a hobbiest to learn the tool and produce boards for his own use. The cost of even the minimal commericial license is a bit steep for a hobbiest that wants to dip his toe in the water of a commericial venture. I’d like to see Eagle offer an intermediate cost option for open source startups. IE: If you publish the Eagle cad files for any item that you sell, including any libraries that you create then your startup commerical venture would qualify for a reduced cost commerical license. Other reasonable limits could be placed on the license, such as term, number of projects, or sales volume ($) before upgrading to a full commericial license would be required.