July 30, 2008 2 Comments
CAD tools are freaking expensive (thousands of dollars per seat), and support is, to say the least, not always linear with the money paid. In fact, it is usually easier to obtain information about an open source tool than a proprietary CAD tool.
Recently, I had a python server script that consumed Gigs of RAM after it had run for about a week on a x86_64 machine. I searched the python website and discovered that there was a memory leak in the threading module. Upgrading to python 2.5.2 solved the problem.
Whenever I discover a problems with CAD tools, obtaining an answer from the support team is always an adventure. First they tell me to upgrade to the most recent, which is always impossible: nobody upgrades CAD tools when they attempt to tape out, you run with the version you have until the end. Second, they tell me they have never heard about the problem being reported. Thirdly, they want me to send them “the entire environment”. Yeah right, I will send millions of lines of our own proprietary code which you won’t be able to compile unless you have all the same versions of other tools like GNU Make, python, perl, and CAD tools from other companies! I usually end up working overtime to find out ways to work around the problem. All that for an expensive tool for which my employer pays support and maintenance fees!
I paid NOTHING for any open source tool I use, and I am able to know everything about them.
But the best support is truly from open source tools. Their bug databases are fully open, all their versions are documented with changelogs, and most have forums or mailing lists that can be searched openly. I can even ask questions on those mailing lists, and I usually get a response faster than for paid support! How can a group of unrelated people, working for different companies, or not working at all, with little or no VC money at all, create a better support structure for the software they write (and give it away for free), than companies that swim in cash?
It seems to me that companies with common needs (say for a synthesis tool or a verilog simulator) should band together and invest a small portion of their CAD budget in open source CAD tools. Eventually, it will pay back. I wonder what investors would think of that?