Logic Simulator Atanua Goes Free, Possibly Open Source

The history of software is littered with developers that built a great product, gave people a reasonable option to license the software, and ended up making a pittance. There’s a reason you don’t see shareware these days – nobody pays. It looks like [Gates] had a point with his Open Letter to Hobbyists.

Such is the case with Atanua. [Jari] built a nice little graphical logic simulator that has tens of thousands of downloads, and is being used in dozens of universities. [Jari] has sold only about 60 licenses for Atanua, netting him only a few thousand Euro. You can’t develop software with a pittance, so now [Jari] is giving Atanua away. This neat little logic simulator has reached the end of its life, the license is free, and [Jari] is out of the business.

This isn’t an ideal situation, but [Jari] is strongly considering open-sourcing Atanua. The code is a little bit of a mess at the moment, and cleaning it up will require a bit of work. [Jari] is leaving the option to buy a license for Atanua open, and anyone who wants to see this bit of software open sourced could buy a license or hundred.

While this isn’t great news for [Jari], if you’re looking for a neat tool to learn digital logic, you now have a very nice free option. Atanua simulates individual logic gates, 74-series chips, and even an 8051 microcontroller in real-time (up to about 1 kHz), with enough buttons, LEDs, and displays to do some very cool stuff. It’s more than enough to learn digital logic on, and good enough for a test bed for some odd and bizarre projects you might have floating around your head.

46 thoughts on “Logic Simulator Atanua Goes Free, Possibly Open Source

        1. this isn’t exactly a narrative, but you are correct about it saying that it needs to happen at the same rate. that’s why there is a qualifier that says “up to 1khz”, because there’s a limit on what the software can do. Up to 1khz, though, it will be a realtime simulation.

          1. And since virtually nobody runs a 8051 CPU at 1 kHz, it is virtually never real-time. And even then, the application doesn’t try to make it run at 1 kHz. It’s going as fast as it can, and the speed depends on the computer and the rest of the design. If you run five 8051 CPUs, it’s only going to run 200 Hz..

  1. So… its a playskool version of simics.

    Unfortunately its blatantly obvious… he should have simulated AVR, Propeller or PIC instead of an 8051. At least then he would have had the fanbase of those platforms flocking to him….

    The 8051 is an industry oldtimer…. certainly very strong in the “cool” department. heh.. even a 6502 or relative would have had a certain coolness that this lacks.

    1. Because the 8051 is much more common than you think, Cypress use them, Nordic uses them, TI uses them, and lots and lots of other chips with integrated 8051 cores, even the FTDI clones where done using 8051’s!
      That and the fact that you can slap an 8051 anywhere you want without paying royalties or license fees!
      Its basically a free open source core.
      The Atmega, PIC(which one, there is millions of different variations of them), MSP430’s they are all proprietary.

        1. [senso] made a typo. Maybe [senso] is dyslexic, or typing fast, or just simply made a mistake. You, for example didn’t capitalize your first sentence correctly, and if you are an American you should be putting your punctuation inside the quotation marks, not outside. If you were British you would most likely be using single quotes (aka inverted commas) and not double quotes.

          Or you just could have ignored it, which feels like a far better strategy

  2. Well, I bought Profilab, which is not only a simulator, but can also interact with external hardware. You could call it a cheaper and easier version of Labview. It’s not like nobody’s paying for software anymore.

  3. I have played with the demo version of this back in the day. While neat and graphically nice, it was a toy, not really a serious tool. That is the main reason why nobody was buying it – flipping LEDs with a few logic gates gets old quickly and there isn’t much else in there.

    Compare this to EveryCircuit – similar look & feel, but does mostly analog stuff and only idealized components. However, it is a great learning tool that is actually useful for analyzing the function of an unknown analog circuit. And it was selling as a mobile app like hot cakes.

    He should have either made it mixed signal (even a silly Arduino needs inputs and outputs and those are mostly analog!) or focused on more complex things – e.g. basic programmable logic simulation – micros, CPLDs, the stuff hobbyist is going to encounter (pros don’t really need this type of tool).

    Unfortunately, this is a clear case of not “people won’t pay”, but of “What a neat idea! Let’s spend ton of time on it and try to sell it!”, without even doing basic analysis whether you will recoup the development costs or whether there is even a market for it at all. Common mistake, unfortunately.

  4. Whoa, take it easy there. Maybe spend some cycles talking about what was good instead of just breaking him down.

    I think Atanua is a good educational tool and good for Gates for making the personal licenses free and for considering the open source route as the project reaches end of life.

    1. Jari has done a great thing making his software free, and hopefully this will spur some to pay for licenses and encourage Jari to open source the project. He absolutely deserves our thanks.

      But the opening of this story seems to link the failure of Atanua to the idea that people just don’t pay for software. If find this simplistic and silly. In my own products fail because of a failure to market correctly, because of a bad business plan, failure to meet an established need, etc.

      I suspect people are responding more to Brian’s analysis of why product failed in the criticism. I am deeply grateful for Jari’s contribution, but it circuit simulation is an under-served market, and has very good free and commercial software in it.

      For Atanua to take off it would have needed to be better in very clear ways. Being free may end up being a key differentiator.

  5. People do pay for software, but it has to be clearly better than the open/free versions. I took a look at Atanua a while back and it didn’t seem better than what I was using.

    I will definitely play around with Atanua, but I wouldn’t count paid software out just yet…

    1. People are perfectly willing to pay for free software, too. RedHat is a fine example. If you have a good product and you are able to support it well, you can sell the service of supporting the software. Add new features and fix bugs and do it as the customers want and you can often get them to pay for it.

    1. I tested my TTL BrainF*** CPU implementation in Atanua, and I have to agree with your point. It’s a decent tool, but the lack of options and proffessionalism in the interface gave me those sort of thrown-together/personal-project vibes you typically get from freeware. It gave me the options I needed to fully test my logic design, but just barely and nothing more.

  6. I think what people are responding to is a slight undercurrent of shaming the community here, in Jari’s announcement. As if everyone here knew about the software and used it all the time, yet didn’t pay. The fact is that not many people ever knew about it, it apparently wasn’t updated and improved often (two-year gaps, never gained all the functionality people needed), so other products became more popular.

    100,000 page views (of the download page) in 7 years really isn’t all that much. Especially if they’re mostly students…that’s a tough market for software. Professional software companies flood students with free versions of pro software, and students just want to get through the next homework problem.

    It failed not because shareware is a dead model (look at all the lite/pro apps these days), or that electronics enthusiasts don’t buy software (I have a few thousand invested in software). It failed because potential customers didn’t think the program’s features were worth the price. It failed because it didn’t compete well against other options. It failed because the right people never heard about it.

    I run a small business too, and if/when my business fails, it’ll be because of me. Not because my potential customers are too stupid to understand that they need my product, or that they’re all cheapskates.

    Congratulations to Jari for doing this, though. It’s a hard lesson to learn, and he’s doing the right thing here. If it becomes an active open source project, it could someday become another path to a business opportunity for him.

  7. Others may or may not agree but I think the author shot himself in the foot when he named the app ‘Atanua’.
    Look at other offerings, they are named LogicSim, ProfiLab, Logic Lab, Logic Simulator and so on, no need to point out they all have logic or sim in the name. It’s what I’d expect.
    Maybe it means something but Atanua doesn’t mean anything to me. I wouldn’t be able to remember how to look for it except ‘it had a strange name’.
    And is it pronounced ‘A-tanua’ or ‘AT-anua’ or ‘at-TAN-ua’ or ‘atan-UA’ which further confuses the issue.
    Even the home page has some new-age picture of someone doing yoga on a beach… a pointless ‘age of aquarius’ image which distracts from the rest of the page. It doesn’t look serious or professional, it’s like a photo of trees on a WordPress header. Why not a background of a screenshot from the app?

    1. I think the Atanua name is a red herring, I very much doubt someone didn’t buy based on the criteria. The website is doing them no favors. Not the background art, It is easy to spin a slogan that makes that fit.

      Its that the site doesn’t communicate with the prospective customer well. I hope the URL for the project wasn’t always “sol.gfxile.net/atanua/license.html” because that doesn’t send the message that you are serious about the product.

      Site content feels barebones and could be much better written. The layout feels like a 1990s template. The guide/manual is minimal at best. Also, much like the URL, the site has ads on it which doesn’t send the best message for commercial software.

      I am not saying any of this to make Jari feel bad, he is doing an amazing and gracious thing; but I do think we owe it to help learn where he went wrong. We should learn from everything, and not simply dismiss the failure as “people don’t pay”.

  8. The problem with this software is that it sits in a weird place. On the visuals side, it does not look new, at least, about 15 years ago I was using something similar. I don’t remember the speed, but i remember that i have learned a lot from it. As things moved on I realized how limited a software like that was.
    The speed itself is of no importance, since you are relying on the human eye which can barely do 10-20Hz, while your screen might do 60. In a normal interact-with-human-real-life-circuit you will have parts that are slow enough to interact with humans and parts that are fast enough to go way past beyond the hardware accelerated 1000Hz real time thingy.
    It may look cool when you start up, but it is very lacking for anything serious. I do have a lot of appreciation for what he did, but commercially speaking he is trying to get into a rather mature marked with a product that does not stand a chance with current offers.

    “It looks like [Gates] had a point with his Open Letter to Hobbyists.” – he does, but as studies have shown and companies are aware of, some amount of piracy is good for them.

    1. If the code is in decent shape and it has sound underpinnings then there is no reason that the free software community can’t beat it into a fine piece of software. Updating the user interface is usually just a matter of having the developer resources to throw at the project.

      “some amount of piracy is good for them.”

      BS ALERT! “piracy” means that some sort of “theft” is being committed, which is not the case with copyright infringement.

      MORE BS ALERT! this “piracy” is not “good” for anyone, in fact Microsoft spends billions of dollars mitigating the damage caused by all the rogue copies of Windows floating around out there spreading viruses. It’s not good for any of the rest of us either. It slows the demand and thus the development of ALL software, free and otherwise.

      1. SOME PEOPLE DON’T UNDERSTAND MONEY ALERT.

        Lets break some math out since those don’t understand money, 99% suck terribly at math. The windows OS is 50 million lines of code. Now obviously there is older code used in each distribution, but lets say the whole thing is new. The average cost of per line in code is $4. This cost is quite well achievable, with the average salary of American programmers at 75k a year, that would break down to 6250 a month and at $4 a line, that results in 1563 lines of code per month, which breaks down to 79 lines of code per working day, which breaks down to 10 lines of code per hour. Now if your a programmer you’ll see that’s way more than doable, you’d have to shit terrible at programming to result in less lines of code per hour. So with windows at 50million lines of code at $4 per line, that’s a total cost of $200,000,000 million dollars. Now in 2012 Windows 7 had sold 630 million copies. This means to break even at software development cost, you would 30 cents per copy, yep that’s right 30 cents. How much does Microsoft sell a license for? An average of $120. That means by 2012 Windows 7 had netted them 75.6 BILLION dollars, which means they had 75.4 BILLION dollars left over from sales. So if your paying for software, what did you get for that extra money? That’s how trade works, I pay for something that’s worth its amount. Now of course this is excluding Microsoft Office, and Xbox, and its excluding taxes, building development, overhead etc. But remember the programmers have been paid already, even if you doubled their salary, tripled their salary, quadrupled their salary, Microsoft would still have 74.8 BILLION dollars left over. If a company were barely frugal, and paid the current tax rate that would still leave them 65.998 BILLION dollars. Now here’s where the real money is, Bill Gates makes 12 BILLION dollars a year, and windows 7 was released in 2009, that means Bill Gates took 36 BILLION dollars in three years. Notice how that’s universally massive compared to the other numbers discussed, all to one man, that doesn’t even work there any more. Do some more research and Microsoft has 128k employees, and at a reasonable 50k a year estimate, that’s 6.4 BILLION dollars. Now we’re down to 33 BILLION dollars. I have no idea how much their buildings cost, but even if it was 10 BILLION dollars, your still at 23 BILLION left over, lets say 2 BILLION R&D, that’s 21 BILLION left over. Where the most of that I guarantee gets paid to the board, and top execs. So what does all that mean. When you buy the software windows OS, your not paying for the software, in fact 99% of the cost you just paid, you’ll never see back, in any way, and you don’t get shit for any of it, nothing. What you use as the software, and agreed to trade for, is 1% of the cost. Now you can argue that piracy is theft, but theft is stealing something from someone, and since you don’t take the physical copy away from anyone, then how do you steal it. In that case you have to go back and say, “What is money”. It is the productivity and value created by a person. So The developers are the producers, and I’m sure some execs, and managers, and product line developers etc, that coordinate, and such, but even at $10 per copy, at 630 Million copies distributed, that’s 6.3 BILLION dollars. Way more than enough to pay everyone, and some times over. So if someone pirates Windows OS, they just stole the productivity of the developers worth about $1. Now whether or not you donate back say a dollar, doesn’t disregard the fact you stole that money to begin with, its still wrong to steal a cent, or 100 dollars. But can you really say piracy should never be allowed to exist? I sure at shit won’t, not when people are so greedy, that claim they produce 12 BILLION dollars a year, which is physically humanly impossible. The maximum a human can generate in productivity is 2 million a year, and that’s in very, very, very rare cases. So to combat massive greed like that, piracy is the only thing I know of, that would work. What’s your solution?

      2. Now of course I left out electricity, and other hidden cost, but to me what would be reasonable is $10-15 is total cost for windows OS, and Microsoft as a company could easily live on that cost, and all its employees, and still do awesome R&D. But that needs a fair tax system to go with it, to which I’d say is any business doesn’t have to pay taxes on revenue, so long as its money spent, so the only money that’s taxes is money left over. Then also put a max on people’s salary, or pay rate at 2 Million, anything above has a 100% tax rate. So spend it or lose it, tax the money left over, not the money earned, because if its spent, that helps everybody.

  9. 1KHz 8051 almost suggest he is simulating a softcore inside this sim, or wrote it in visual basic.

    This software would benefit greatly from open sourcing. People could add pluggable logic interface, proper logging and visualisation (logic sim with no timing diagrams?).
    Imagine plugin infrastructure with
    -list of CPUs you can simulate, and sourcecode of a template showing you how to add new ones (preferably language agnostic)
    -IO modules for talking to real hardware
    -online library of projects shared by users, you could have whole edu courses ready for reuse

    basically better, open source labview

    as for money, it failed because it was stuck in 1980 business model. updates every 2 years? 50 Euro per seat? :o, no mobile version? no features wishlist? no roadmap? Someone already mentioned EveryCircuit as a counter example.

    1. What you are suggesting is roughly equivalent to a carpenter saying:

      “I can turn that piece of wood over there into a house. All I need from you is another $100,000 worth of materials, a team of skilled workers, and two years time!”

      1. btw code for most of this stuff is already “out there”, scattered among many open source console emulators. Of course most of them are not cycle accurate and probably lack full pin/IO emulation, but that could be added over time.

        Imagine a software that lets you build console/old computer emulator by simply dropping chips on a workbench, wiring them up and uploading eprom contents

  10. Having it associated and included in the price of a textbook would have helped. Electronic Workbench sold for that reason. The problem now of course is that tech schools/colleges/universities don’t want to teach the 8051 as the basis for a curriculum. PIC, atmel or arm based would give them more options to build on.
    Having based it on one processor makes me think it will not be easy to dig out that code and allow more than one processor to be used. Those design decisions are made at the beginning of a project, not at the end.

  11. The age of stand alone simulator is pretty much over. Yes, you can still fine *paid* simulators – they are integrated with PCB design packages or do full system level design simulation – MCU/digital/analog (e.g. Tina).

    These days, you can get *free* simulators that are integrated as part of an IDE from (or licensed by the chip vendors) for *free*. It is integrated, so you can code/debug/modify easily without having to export the compile code manually and work on the source code/compiled code inside the IDE. You can debug your hardware prototype in a similar work flow if you have emulator. Kind of hard to beat a simulation model that came or supported from the chip vendor.

    As for TTL stuff, that’s pretty much a matured market. Most of the newer families (except the tiny logic) no longer have a full set of logic gates. Kind of silly when a CPLD at similar price range (at retail) can easily implement an order of magnitude (or more) logic function inside. Same thing for the CPLD/FPGA market, the vendors are giving away free tools + licensed simulators. You can even mix and match schematic capture/state machine/HDL entries. Some of them have 74XX libraries if you still think in discrete logic. The in circuit programmable nature is nice – want to tweak the design – just download new code. Right now all you (people who like to breadboard need) are some cheap $5 breakout boards for $1-$2 low end 5V tolerant XC9500XL CPLD and may be someone to dumb down the GUI/process.

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