Altium Gives Away The Farm With New Circuit Maker Software

Things are about to get interesting in the world of PCB design software for the open source hardware community. This week, Altium launched the open public beta for its new Circuit Maker software, and it’s a major change from what we looked at previously. Everything is free.

You heard that right, free. Unlimited board size, and unlimited layers – all free. And this isn’t some stripped-down, bare-bones software here. They’ve thrown in almost everything under the sun; a 3D viewer, team project collaboration, EagleCAD and DFX import, integrated Octopart supplier and pricing information, no commercial usage limits, and project sharing. And if that isn’t enough, the “engine” seems to be the exact same back-end that is used in the full $10,000 Altium Designer as well(with a bit easier to use user interface on top). This is a major departure from the pre-beta we covered back in September. Altium was going have board size and layer limits, with the ability to “upgrade” at a cost. So by now you’re thinking to yourself “OK, what’s the catch?” Well there are a few gotchas – but only a few.

The software uses cloud based storage for your project files, and is community based. It won’t work without an Internet connection, there is no local storage, and it forces you to share your projects with the world. You do get two “Sandbox” designs that you can hide from the world before you generate your gerber files, but after that, your project is online for the whole world to see. Will that be a deal killer for the OSHW community? We’ll find out soon enough.

One thing is for sure, anyone with a doggy Internet connection is not going to enjoy using Circuit Maker (we’re hoping they remove that limitation in the final product). And as with any cloud based service, we wonder how many people will be willing to trust their designs to a free service that could be turned off on a whim? Or will the unlimited board size and layers, combined with Altium’s name and robust software win people over in the end?

If you want to see in-depth review of Circuit Maker, we highly recommend you watch the video after the break.  [Dave Jones] of the eevblog, gives you a full rundown on the beta version. Dave’s in a unique place to review this software, not only has he been using Altium since the mid-80’s as a professional engineer, he’s also a former Altium employee.

150 thoughts on “Altium Gives Away The Farm With New Circuit Maker Software

  1. I *really* want to like this. I really really do. I’m just stuck on two things (both mentioned above)

    First is the inability to run the software without the internet. I travel a bit, and quite often don’t have a connection, and when I do it is generally terrible. I’ve played around with it, and it truely is a horrible experience with a slow net connection.

    Second is the ability for Altium to turn it off at any time. I struggle handing control over my projects to a company, no matter who it is. I’ve put a heap of hours in, I don’t want to flush it all away if they pull the plug.

        1. The “you” here being the entire electrical / computer engineering community of makers.

          I’m betting I’ll be able to get a patched local-host version within a few months at the latest.

          1. I think most people would just pirate Altium Designer before they tried to circumvent CircuitMaker, since emulating an Altium Vault server is a non-trivial thing to do.

      1. Well an edit to a vhosts (or httpd.conf) file is only useful if the they use domain based name-space. It’s not hard to imagine that they use a dedicated IP. It’s also not hard to imagine that they have anticipated this and employed some sort of key based encryption.

        While it is fair to say that most server-based services are easy to reverse engineer, it’s naive to assume that all server based services are that easy.

        Personally, I simply wouldn’t bother with any application if it were the case that I needed legally grey modifications to get what I wanted. Especially when there are so many competing applications that are up to the task.

        1. >>It’s not hard to imagine that they use a dedicated IP.

          Really? I find it very hard to imagine that any coder would hard code something as dynamic and variable as an IP address. Even static IP addresses aren’t.

          1. I’m nor understanding what your saying here. Even static IP’s aren’t what?
            The IP doesn’t have to be permanent. It just has to last till the next upgrade.
            As for coding … static IP’s would not exist if there no use for them and code can be changed. There are lot’s of reasons to code for a static IP. What if there is no DNS server available?

          2. If there’s no DNS server, then the user doesn’t have a functional internet connection.

            No sane programmer would hard code an IP as some sort of security measure because it’s a lousy security measure. There are far better solutions, such as pinning to an SSL certificate that you embed in your client.

        2. Even if they do use a dedicated IP, you can route that where you like in your own network. With a bit of tweaking. It might be useful to sit in on the socket, and log everything that goes through it. Then from there see what they’ve done. They *might* have keyed it, they might not. Either through oversight, or maybe the guy who did the cloud saving part is cool and secretly left it open.

          If they haven’t put a key on it yet, they will, if people exploit that. But then do you have to update your version of the software? Things like the Sony PSP and Nintendo 3DS have whole communities dedicated to eluding updates to their machines, cos Sony keep closing the loopholes that let people do what they like with the hardware they paid for.

          Either way I suppose it’s too much bother when there’s alternatives. Maybe colleges will use it.

      2. The thing is: software is a weird product. If you sell a car, it costs money to design it, but also to make another copy of that design. Software ALL the costs is in the design. And copying (building another one) is easy. So software comes with restrictions, for example: You licence the software to use on one computer.

        Here the restrictions will say something that you are REQUIRED to use the altium servers, and you are REQUIRED to publish your designs. If they change the rules, (or their server goes down), you no longer have permission to use their software.

        The right to USE their software was sold for $10000 just a short while ago. They have their marketing reasons to provide you this software for free under certain conditions. What gives you the right to circumvent those conditions and still use their software?

        Now, if they “sell” you their software for $0 under certain conditions, that makes a contract of sorts. If they say “unlimited” now, that doesn’t mean: “stops in 2 years”. So you could say that if they DO attempt to lock you in (or out) after, say, 2 years that they violated their part of the contract. That would make it defendable (then!) to circumvent the measures they impose to execute the contract established now-ish.

        1. I can agree with you on principle, still the cloud limitation is a huge drawback. I would welcome this software if they would put some size and layer limitations like Eagle does, but allowing to save/load locally without being forced to be online somewhere.

          1. But then it would just be another Eagle. CircuitMaker is solving a different problem: provide a community environment for developing open-source hardware, using essentially a $10,000 design package that they’re giving to the community for free. CircuitMaker has the potential to turn into a huge repository of high-quality designs — from simple, two-layer Arduino boards, to 12-layer quad-core single-board Linux computers. I’ve been A/B testing it against Altium Designer for the last couple of weeks, and I’m extremely impressed by it.

        1. 200% Agree! KiCad, onces installed, is very productive (specially with the new interactive router), cross platform and OPEN SOURCE. Because Open Source != Free. In fact: Open Source > Free. Came on! Freedom is more important than easement! May be the community just need to work a bit more on the installation packages for KiCad in Windows and Mac, so other people start using it.

        2. Yeah, 200% Agree! KiCad, onces installed, is very productive (specially with the new interactive router), cross platform and OPEN SOURCE. Because Open Source != Free. In fact: Open Source > Free. Came on! Freedom is more important than easement! May be the community just need to work a bit more on the installation packages for KiCad in Windows and Mac, so other people start using it.

        3. GEDA has stuff that goes into space ;)

          Lets be fair here though kicad has some serious usability issues (and so does GEDA) There is just so much room for improvement. Hopefully this gives the kicad devs a kick in the pants to improve.

        4. KiCad doesn’t provide a community-based collaboration environment, so there’s no easy way to work on designs together and share design content with each other.

    1. I also have bad memories about a lot of hours invested in an electronics forum own by somebody else. After a few years, all pictures were lost. Then, after another few years, the owner decided to upgrade and reorganize the forum, so all my posts are now useless, with broken links and no pictures.

      The second big mistake was when I kept my emails on Hotmail. Hotmail was later bought by Microsoft, then later Microsoft decided that they can delete my e-mails because I didn’t log in for 2 months or so.

      I don’t even want to remember about my YouTube account on Yahoo, and now Google is harassing me to open a Google+ account and merge everything.


      Companies and services come and go faster that you would think.
      Much faster then you would like or need.

      1. headwize?? I’m reminded of that site, where people submitted tech info and it was all jumbled later after a reorg. I think it was HW but might actually have been head-fi, instead. or both ;)

        yeah, I’m not at all excited about using a network-only based tool. I don’t trust companies these days and having the rug pulled out from under you is not a fun feeling.

    2. At least they’ve provided a way out with export to Eagle. Eagle’s not my favorite package, but the format’s pretty well documented, which means it’ll be possible to translate to other packages too.

      1. That is true. I use kicad at the moment, sounds like that export should be the answer to one of my problems. I’ll keep an eye out for any improvements with the Internet connectivity problem.

      2. Beware. The export functionality in packages is often incomplete or buggy. It is often an export in name only. They don’t want you to export, they want to capture your data. So there is little incentive to invest in developing that portion of the code.

        Test the export thoroughly before depending on it.

          1. Truly stated. And check the Eagle license carefully – non-commercial does not mean open source hardware. It means non-commercial – in other words it doesn’t matter if you claim that your project is open source; if you intend to sell and make money from the hardware, that’s a commercial activity. There’s no such legal limitation in CircuitMaker.

          2. RE: non-commercial use only, is it legal to use Eagle freeware for OSHW even if I don’t personally intend to sell it? OSHW requires that I don’t restrict commercial use, so if I design a board in Eagle and release it as OSHW, can Eagle come after me because someone else starts selling the board? Should I use some sort of non-OSHW license like CC-NC?

        1. but for the purpose of making OSHW, that’s sufficient. Yes there are size and layer limits. Yest it is a pain. They can’t give it away.

          To be honest, I have projects that have more than 8-9 chips that are well within the constraints. They are more complex than the usual breakout boards or arduino most people do already. I do use of SMT + doubled side PCB and my board density are closer to similar commercial products.

      1. Eagle is *not* free — it has size/layer limitations, and you’re not allowed to use it for any commercial work. CircuitMaker has absolutely no restrictions in place, and you get essentially 95% of the Altium Designer toolset, for free.

        Eagle is also a terrible piece of software, which is a whole other point of discussion. Once you use CircuitMaker, I think you’ll realize how PCB editing *should* be.

      1. If they made it much cheaper than that, everyone would cancel their Altium subscriptions and switch to CircuitStudio, since it can do 95% of what Altium can do. Altium would immediately go out of business.

  2. If you lock people into “cloud saving” people will just make emulators for the remote server and use them instead. This is the exact same thing that happened to SimCity 5. They really didn’t think this through very well.

    1. Emulating an Altium Vault server is a non-trivial thing to do. I think most people would just pirate Altium Designer before they tried to circumvent CircuitMaker.

    1. It’s silly to dismiss a piece of software simply because it’s not open-source. KiCAD is years away from being half as good as the Altium stuff, and for OSHW, CircuitMaker’s community idea is absolutely fantastic.

      1. Don’t let anyone kid you, Altium have zero interest in Open Source projects, Their only interest is locking people in to Altium, and the design of CM makes that obvious.

        The point of OSHW is about freedom, not about how good it is, otherwise we’d all be using Windows.

        Btw, George Graves is about the only person on eevblog who thinks this is a good idea.

        1. Why don’t you think Altium has an interest in open-source projects? How does the design of CircuitMaker make it obvious that they’re trying to lock people into Altium?

    1. +1

      If “cloud computing” has a meaning, it is not a way of doing computing, but rather a way of thinking about computing: a devil-may-care approach which says, “Don’t ask questions. Don’t worry about who controls your computing or who holds your data. Don’t check for a hook hidden inside our service before you swallow it. Trust companies without hesitation.” In other words, “Be a sucker.” A cloud in the mind is an obstacle to clear thinking. For the sake of clear thinking about computing, let’s avoid the term “cloud.” — Richard Stallman

      1. Stallman is being a little hypocritical on the subject of control with his “free but not free” GNU licensing, but one thing is for sure, SaaS is about subscription fees.

      2. Well here’s my take on “the cloud”.

        The term started with “cloud computing” which was just a sharing of processor resources by the general public. There was no dedicated “cloud servers” they were just members of the public donating a slice of the PC’s processor time to a good cause.

        Then google ran with it and wanted to create a new type of service delivery or “cloud services” on the “software as a service” model. A lot of resources were invested in this but to no avail because mobile technology took hold and now it all “apps”.

        This left lots of resources lying around needing a purpose so it ended up being “cloud storage”. Sometimes used for simple storage like files and images and sometime more complex storage like data in a (*)SQL database. At this point the general concept was that by having so many available points (servers) to store data there were multiple redundancies so “cloud storage” could be used like network based RAID array and have several backups so that if a server died or someone pulled the plug (for ever) then customer data would not be effected. There was no dependence on any server or any organisation.

        Then some organisations decided to call their existing “content distribution networks” a “cloud” just to jump on the buzzword of the day. Now there is no indication when a “cloud” of any sort is mentioned that it is NOT controlled by ONE organisation and will DIE when they pull the plug.

        So now “cloud” means: A service or a publicly shared service or a dedicated service – for processor time or applications or file storage or databases that is on peoples private PC’s or servers owned by various organisations or servers owned or controlled by one single organisation that may have enough redundancy to backup data so that it can never be lost or be in the control of one organisation so that all you data can disappear on the whim of one person.


        An updated description of “cloud”.

        “Cloud” is a buzzword that has it’s meaning distorted so much by being used by marketing people that really don’t have the slightest clue what they’re talking about that it no longer has any definitive meaning.

        So now the term “cloud” is only used by marketing people that really don’t have the slightest clue what they’re talking about.

        “the cloud” = Snake oil version 2015

          1. It really doesn’t matter, I was talking about the numerous falsehoods in your fascinating account.

            For instance, as a quick visit to Wikipedia will show you, the cloud did not start as “a sharing of processor resources by the general public”. People have attempted this, but it’s never been a major feature because of trust and reliability issues. It sounds like you’re talking about projects like folding@home, but nobody refers to them as “cloud computing”.

            Further, the term “cloud computing” was first popularized by Amazon with their release of Elastic Compute Cloud; Google didn’t enter the “cloud” market until years later, with App Engine. I should know – I was one of the original engineers working on App Engine.

            The rest of your account is similar nonsense. Seriously, you can’t just make stuff up and claim it’s history.

          2. Ah, Got me with the good ol 100% accurate – never fails wikipedia!

            Um nice to hear your who called what when story and sorry to spoil it for you.

            These things have a code path. One thing evolves into another like evolving server protocols so it’s not just about a ‘subjective’ who called what when.

            The project (or code more to the point) that eventually evolved into the early stages of ‘cloud computing’ started much longer ago than you think. It stated with shared resources for space exploration by way of data analysis. I don’t right now remember the name of the project but given time I am sure I could dig it up.

            The code path breaks not long after this or forks when the definition of ‘cloud’ starts to diversify. In most cases it just falls back to a few modification to existing protocols such as HTTP FTP and (*)SQL.

            None the less the code path for what because the first stage of the ‘cloud’ is quite distinct and if you are unaware of that then it’s little surprise your are confused about it’s history.

          3. Um, sure. All that waffle about stuff that vaguely resembles cloud computing but nobody called that at the time and nobody calls it that now absolutely papers over the cracks in your authoritatively worded but entirely fictional history.

      1. cs2 was ‘freed’ by adobe a few years ago. it was the last good version of pshop that I’ve used and it does 100% of what I would want. no need to ‘upgrade’. adobe stopped their license servers so they posted serials a few years ago for cs2 and so everyone jumped on that, got their ‘free serial’ and life has been good ever since ;)

        screw the cloud. so many things I could have done, but clouds got in my way ;)

    2. …But it makes perfect sense for what Altium is trying to do with CircuitMaker: create a community-based platform of open-source hardware designs and libraries that everyone can work from and collaborate.

  3. yeah-no… I’ll stick with gnu-pcb. Used CM2K for nearly a decade… so many bugs I wanted fixed, so many improvements. So many quirks to learn to work-around… So many circuit-boards that can no-longer be revised… Ain’t wasting those efforts on closed-source anything anymore, especially when it’s friggin’ cloud-based. Nope. You’d have to pay me. A LOT.
    We’re in the world of tools, the vast-majority of the things offered don’t seem like anything more than eye-candy. I’ve tools I’ve learnt AND can improve, myself, and can rely on to be backwards-compatible with old files for quite some time, or at the very-least a 10y/o tool can just recompiled for whatever new OS comes ’round… Why the hell would I choose anything else? Why would *anyone* in this era, unless forced to?

    1. What? They never said this in the pre-release invitations to beta. Crap. I do all this kind of thing on a 2012 Mac Pro with 12 cores at 3.3 GHz and 32G of RAM and a couple huge monitors. It is the imaging/graphics/design/web master Queen of the office. Going to get another one. OK, back to Diptrace on Debian. (At one time Apple was going to release their incredible internal design suite. Didn’t happen :-(

  4. Thank you for digesting the essential into article; “software uses cloud based storage” This is definitely a no-go. If the company goes belly up or a new manager just pulls the plug from service, all the designs are gone for ever. At least my hobby projects can take years, so the continuity of tools is a first priority.

    1. vmware, virtualbox (etc) solve that problem. cloud-based works fine, usually, with vm things.

      but its the fact that it NEEDS to be online and won’t save local files – that’s a dealbreaker for me.

      I would prefer to sit in linux all day long and not have to run windows but that’s secondary to all the other limits we are hearing about now.

  5. Enforced “cloud based” with all files under their control, and Windows only. No thanks. Wouldn’t surprise me if their EULA grants them all rights and ownership to the users’ work.

      1. You may want to read sections 6 and 8 of the EULA before you rant about “bullshit” and “please stop”…

        The sections make it very clear that you are royally screwed over and have absolutely no recourse when you use their service.

        On a semi-bright note, you are prevented from making dildos and the like with their service. You are explicitly prohibited to upload pornographic material (section 8.7). That means that one of the largest markets (sex devices) is out of the question (oh the irony, an internet without sex).

        1. Your interpretation of their prohbition of pornographic content puts into question your interpretation of sections 6 and 8. The circuitry that powers a dildo is in no way pornographic. A circuit card shaped like sex organs is pornographic.

          1. My interpretation is not the problem. What the sections mean is that you have _lost_control_. Even if you “own” your work, you are no longer able to decide its content /freely/ or be ensured that you can do with it what /you/ want or even have access to it when /you/ need to have access.

            The fallacy of the cloud. You do not increase control and flexibility by using it and are actually doing the opposite. You are handing over control to a third party. That is my point.

  6. Sharing information must be your own choice not enforced. I’ve seen it with Fablabs. The enforced sharing is horrible. The bad one picture projects with incomplete source gets uploaded just to publish. While its gets harder to find the useful projects with many hours and good documentation. The same goes for thingiverse, etc. Its really annoying to only find half complete projects.

  7. Cloud = Corporate luring of uninformed dumbasses.

    When someone refers to cloud computing, what they don’t know is that this is a hip and catchy way to have control of everything you do. In a nutshell, you don’t own anything, not the software or the documents. They make it more appealing by saying you can access all your files across multiple devices and locations. That’s cool, but only if I’m the one hosting my own server from my location of choosing. When they host your stuff, they can see what you do, exploit you with ads, surrender your data to authorities, etc. The cloud seems like a great idea, and I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but the idea of the cloud seems to suspect. It came out of nowhere and is way too popular, but look at what you give up to use it.

    1. What’s worse with the “popularity”, is that nobody asked for it. Some genius had the idea (maybe a marketroid got a geek drunk and he spilled the beans on what’s possible. Or maybe it was like Einstein with the nuclear bomb), and now every butthole company in the world is trying to squeeze themselves, and their customers, into it. Because renting out software is great. Microsoft no longer have to re-polish the widgets and break compatibility with the file save format to sell new word processors to people who already have word processors.

      Media companies are going the same way, preferring to endlessly rent you your media through a link to their central servers (the encryption keys at least, they’re happy with peer-to-peer sharing when it saves them money), rather than just selling you a DVD. There’s a whole world of asshole tricks for marketing and money people to invent to gouge out more pennies.

      All this, because we wanted higher bandwidth into our homes. Careful what you wish for! I’m wishing for some fundamental constant of the Universe to go wrong, and we all have to dig the old 28k modems out. Web pages mostly made of writing, that tell you things you wanted to know. Conversing through Usenet, where the interface is in your own software, and only new messages need to come over the network.

      And nobody had to read stupid, racist opinions.

  8. I’ll stick with KiCAD, thanks. It’s cross-platform, and does not require an internet connection. The files stay wherever I choose to put them, and if someone else wants to use them I don’t impose any obligations on them to run the software that created them.

      1. +1

        And you’d think I would like CircuitMaker since I use Altium at work. KiCAD is just better because it’s mine.

        Plus other factors are the shortcuts/hotkeys for things and the way you make symbols and parts are different. 10 minutes or so into his video Dave Jones says that productivity gets crippled. Not a tool I’d want to use to make boards 8 hours a day.

        1. Kicad has been around since 1992. FreePCB’s initial release was in 2003. But I sorta suspect you’re trolling for the same clinging Kicad evangelists who harass anybody who admits to using Eagle; in which case, carry on.

    1. That. Support KiCAD. By simply using it, by submitting bug reports, by sharing your projects. If you tried it some years ago but found it hard, maybe it’s time to try again. Its development is very active and it changes a lot.

        1. I have XP (Service Pack 3) and .net works fine although there was some warning given on the install so save MS ass if it didn’t work.
          I fill install KiCAD now and get back to you soon.

        2. I installed KiCad_stable-2013.07.07-BZR4022_Win_full_version on Windows XP SP3 and it works fine. It didn’t ask about .net so I obviously have that installed already.
          Just checked .net – I have:
          .NET Framework 3.0 Service Pack2
          .NET Framework 3.5 SP1
          .NET Framework 4 Client Profile
          .NET Framework 4 Extended

        3. I had no idea about .Net requirement, which seems weird considering that KiCAD is cross platform. Maybe better try one of the development builds, some of the improvements, especially the CERN router, are fairly recent and they definitely are not in the 2013 build.

          HaD really should do a nice writeup about KiCAD.

  9. I’ve tried this beta out. RoGeorge has already hit the nail on the head. The software is otherwise usable.
    Altium is what i use but I would Love KiCAD to ‘win the war’.

  10. I recently saw that video and i agree with the points made by other commenters.
    I was curious to try something different from Eagle (which i find good enough for the stuff i need).
    Personally i was fine with their previous business model: free basic features and pay something if you need bigger or multilayer boards. I’m happy to pay 100/200$ for something that works great, i just can’t justify spending thousands of $ for hobby use.

        1. FreePCB is a Windows program, right? I have to use Wine to make it work in Linux, right? That’s all I found when searching.

          I had one program that used to work perfectly in Wine, then Wine changed and my program stopped working. I know I could downgrade, or wait for a new version, but since it was working why did they break it?

          So, KiCAD FTW! It is designed to be cross-platform.

  11. I’m fine with Windows-only as most of the main tools we use are anyway (Altium Designer, SolidWorks and related tools, most compilers: Imagecraft/Keil/IAR, AutoCAD Electrical, etc) or at best have a “limited” OS X version (MS Office). 95% of the “other” tools I have to use or have to evaluate (like SigmaStudio for a SigmaDSP last week) are Windows-only. Same for most of our “in house” tools, ERP system and what not. I really hate the newer versions of Windows after 7, but Windows is pretty much a requirement for this kind of work so I’m ok with it.

    The main problem I have with this tool is the cloud thing. We won’t be getting rid of Altium Designer anytime soon. I just wish they’d invest their money in the core product instead of the FPGA stuff and other thing no one wants of, or moving their offices to another country every other year.

  12. This reminds me — a few months ago, I saw a post somewhere (here? Make? Adafruit? elsewhere?) that had a list of tools and software packages someone new(-ish) to electronics would need: circuit design & layout, 3D modeling, IDE, ICSP/FTDI/JTAG, etc. I thought I had bookmarked it, but apparently not because now I can’t find it.

    Does anybody have a comprehensive list of tools like that?

  13. Cloud storage, eh? So we can have another “trust a company with our designs until it decides that it’s on their server therefore it’s their intellectual property” fiasco?

    No, thank you.

  14. Mandatory community visibility is a deal killer, at least for this free version. I’m a Protel user since the 90’s and love it. That is probably why I load up with silver bullets when I get near Eagle. I signed up for this beta many months ago and never got updates. To me OSHW is fine up to about 4 layers. After that the investment in time and work is too high, at least for the first year or 18 months of a project that is meant to be sold. So, breakouts and most of the ‘uino stuff, sure. An 8 layer A15 Exynos ARM board at 1.5 GHz? No way (go use the Samsung reference design if you MUST have the design files).

    BTW, I would like to see some sort of OSHW (SSOOSHW) license and logo that specifies that files will be made public at some fixed time after product release. There are plenty of us who would do open source if we had a chance to make the money back first.

  15. Let’s summarize:
    – It forces you to have an Internet connection (no quick “on the go” editing)
    – It forces you to release your designs to the public (while the idea of freely shared esigns is nice, the fact that you’re FORCED is just not right, and the 2 sandbox projects don’t do much to help)
    – It runs on Windows only (yeah good luck being an allround OSH solution when you lock out creative people (who tend to flock arround Mac OS) and “die hard” Open-Source Fans (which won’t get anything besides Linux even near their hard-drives).
    – It can be shut down at any second by the operator deciding to ditch the servers because it was “not profitable”.
    – It does basically what the nightlies of KiCAD are doing (feature wise) just with a few sprinkles of “eye candy”.

    1. awwh crashed it already in component links, still nice that it is threaded/protected so when aux crash i don’t lose the whole thing.

      still imported my project from eagle easily, and created schematics, pcb and gerbers quickly. i might end up switching back to altium if this keeps up, since cadsoft do not seem to want to add a simple 3d or board flip option.

  16. Just a few comments about Altium that makes me somewhat suspicious of their efforts… Altium has been increasingly their commercial user maintenance fee quite rapidly… a few years ago it was $1300 USD and now it is $1700 USD. This is a flat fee and so if you are simply interested in their PCB tools, or simply access to yearly updates, you are out of luck… you have to pay this fee which includes support for items that you do not want or need (is anyone rally using their FPGA tools?). I, and most of the people I know< would prefer to have an escalating rate based upon what type of support I want. Also, if you fall out of paying the yearly fee for 3 years you effectively have to repurchase the product… How's that for maintaining customer loyalty? When I mentioned this to them, Altium simply stated that people are willing to pay for their tools and are "happy" to pay "extra" for (now) being US Based. I countered this by saying that Altium did not mind being non US based for many years and only "recently" relocated to the US… amazing…

    Given my experience with Altium corporate I cannot help but be suspicious and that their is a secondary agenda… one that suits their pocketbook.

    1. Right. No one wants of their FPGA stuff and the like. The yearly fees are high, and honestly I don’t feel we get much for it (in term of upgrades and bug fixes). It feels like 90% of our money goes towards moving their offices to a different country every other year, and chasing their wild dreams like their FPGA stuff that no one wants. They don’t really seem to care much about making the best suite for “traditional” schematic/PCB design anymore. And no, I’m, not happy to pay more because they moved their offices to a country where everything costs more (even less value for our money!)

      Cadence is the only other “big” name, but that sucks in countless other ways. That’s why we’re still Altium users, not so much because we’re happy about what the company is doing with all of our money.

  17. KiCad is the turtle that will win the race.
    Free, open source, CERN supported, not crippled in any way, great support and tutorials
    EagleCad has been fair, but I just need to be able to scale and have the option of maintaining my rights sometimes.
    I don’t understand the vitriolic between the open source and for profit communities. We all need to make money and I don’t begrudge others making money. We all need good tools to do quality work and the open source community deserves as good of tools as the for profit community.
    Let the flames begin.

    1. KiCAD is on par with EagleCAD now… I find custom libs for building stuff is very handy, but noted Element14 serves many bogus libraries that mislabel parts/packages. Its interesting that most community libraries like Adafruit/Sparfun are far more accurate.

      Altium is just doing what Traxmaker did prior to their failure. They get smart people to make bad licensing choices, and up-sell them services by blackmailing them with their own work.

      Also, I found Altium useless both professionally and for hobby projects… Its work flow is far too complex/slow compared with most CAD systems, and its simulators suck compared with NI. Now they will insist their FPGA stuff is top notch, but their analog stuff hasn’t changed much since 1990’s Protel.

      Our mice will pass on the free cheese…

    2. Those unknown quality “free” libraries has been a liability. Too many of them are wrong. You ended up wasting time and money than making your own libraries from scratch.

      I am now editing my own packages from datasheets/mechanical drawing whenever I can.

  18. My biggest issue with CircuitMaker is you cannot import manufacturer or third-party supplied parts libraries, and the Ciiva Library is lacking quite a few parts. This often results in having to do substantially more work to use CircuitMaker, and thus far has resulted in me just opening Eagle instead.

  19. For $5 you can add 3 FPGA chips to different key parts of your design and then your intellectual property is protected until you choose to put the FPGA code up on Github. So there, that is one problem solved without breaking any rules or laws. :-)
    FPGA = Black Box.

  20. Anyone remember what the Linux kernel used for SCM before Git? It was called BitKeeper. It was fuly commercial, but FOSS projects could use it if they agreed to certain conditions, such as sending commit logs to BitMover, Inc. Every project had contributors with reservations about it, and finally there was the incident that caused a mass exodus.

    The limitations here reek of BitKeeper. The stink is stronger with online-only in play: nobody wanted that for XBone, we won’t want it for PCBs.

  21. Community visibility of all my work without any further control by me is not going to happen, sorry, also not being able to at least have a copy of my own work in a useable and standard form importable into other tool packages is one safety/reasonable feature I WILL NOT do without, I don’t care if their software is mostly on their servers or requires a internet connection those are acceptable items in themselves. But to not be able to protect ANY of my work from total public access is not even worth thinking about, first designing project hardware is a HOBBY of mine not a profession, I accept my shortcomings and deal with the imperfections that result in my personal project “designs” other members of the public don’t seem to get just because you share a few thoughts about a hardware build of a prototype or experimental project. If it doesn’t perform as some idiot in timbuktto thinks it should or a weekend electronics builder discovers by incinerating his garage that contained his prize ___________ (fill in blank), that the project design of yours he copied off the net was not designed to run on 220 volts, unattended for years or in triple digit heat without some serious changes to the original! These folks and there are plenty let me assure you (most all ready aware just don’t want to think about it) are very vocal, take next to zero personal responsibility for any malfunction or short fall, act like any partial or finished idea found on the net makes the creator 100% responsible and that the project device should perform like any commercially sold item does !! They write inane and threatening or scolding emails and make posts to all sorts of social media and forums about the short falls of the “idiot creator” and his faulty design!!! Which is a good reason not to publicly post every design that crosses my mind to turn into a physical article. And think of the endless list and similar or alternate method used untested unrated for specific use, unproven, projects that will (if it catches on at all) fill the servers at this outfit, if one did wade into it to try to find something they could use and try building it might be a difficult , perilous and perhaps maddening exercise to locate a suitable project from the potentially unending collection of designs collected by the company from all “designers” meaning people with my limited skills or less and electronics design guru’s with advanced degrees in this field, with no real way to tell who did what or how competent that creator was! I misplace files and projects on my system all the time and in total there is only about 3TB on 3 machines (9TB including applications, data, OS, drivers, personal pictures and emails, as well as not being any where near 100% full!) I see a real black hole of info being possible with that kind of plan.
    How bout a lower limit / upper limit / usage of resources consideration for determining who or what gets public posting and if I want my 2 layer armature radio do-hicky backed up at home fine, if I make 1 or 2 boards a year not public and I get to keep my data . Generate a project of 3 layers with 25 or more copies of the board ordered, public posting and the best thought that would make me consider this thing, If a 4 layer or more project generates board orders / downloads for 30 copies or more by interested builders then send me a taste of the financial reward (from a fee for the board prints and or other sales resulting of my work) large projects would pay percentage scaled better cash or large or exceptionally large numbers of boards ordered, payout for even single layer designs with really huge numbers of boards sold just as a perk for allowing a company to retain the work of individuals and potentially to profit from the same by that company. Even a small reward would beat Nothing for the loss of control of ones creations. Companies that unfairly gob onto the IP of others and profit or attempt to from it are the companies hacked, hated and seen as evil and attacked with malware and DOS events more often than those that at least pat the IP creators on the heads are. IF you steal or unfairly control the work of others, nothing good will come of such enterprise EVER!

  22. EasyEDA ( is my preferred tool these days, No restrictions and works fine off line, I did my last Hackaday project on it and a couple of commercial projects, its a real gem to use.

    …Shame the site and guys who wrote it never get a mention in H.A.D :-(

    1. I saw EasyEDA back when it was new and still halh-baked. Looks like it may be coming along these days. Worth a second look. There has to be a catch though. EasyEDA doesn’t come straight out and tell you how they monitize the site (well it sure isn’t in their FAQ anyway). Also, can you download your standard Gerber and drill files to send to the fab of your choice?

      1. I’ve sent the gerbers from easyeda to a local shop and also to in china for board assembly, the pcb’s I get from easyeda direct though are really top quality and competitive and I prefer to use them, I guess using their service is how their business model intends to work.

        The pricing link at the bottom of the main page, also shows the free version will always be free for open source and two private projects, but for now they are not enforcing any pricing and you get everything free (I have several private projects which are good for work in progress stuff as well as paid work).

        The thing that sold it to me was the honesty of the FAQ which says they will try and make a business model but if anything goes wrong they promise to open source the program on Github. I personally wish them luck and I would hate to go back to eagle

  23. cloud based == thanks but no thanks.
    Nobody seems to realize we’re slowly going back to the 40+ years old mainframe era: a giant server surrounded by dumb terminals. once someone turns off the server/goes belly up/starts charging more/change their policies/adds modifications that make it incompatible with your other tools, etc. you’re screwed.
    I would only support cloud when it actually mirrors user data, ie it offers a service without taking away control from users, surely not this way which should be avoided at any cost.

  24. There is this under-appreciated PCB design tool called DesignSpark PCB that no one seems to know about. Free, runs locally, unlimited. Why does this excellent tool continue to languish in obscurity?

  25. We should try to not use products from companies trying to use (and bias) the Makers/Open Source communities for their own selfish goals with free but non open source software. If these guys want to really become makers-friendly, open the sources, and do not impose people to use a server or online service. Are we that silly?

    1. Shall we demand all Adobe software become open-source if we use their apps for our design work? I don’t need open-source or GNU software unless I’m embedding it in my projects. I’m happy to use a commercial tool for design.

      1. Please don’t get me wrong. We should not demand anything, and I’m happy to use commercial tools too! What I say is that (at least in my view), there are a new kind of smart moves from some companies which in some cases were or are even competing with open source initiatives (like KiCad in this case, or like a lot of OSH 3D printers in the case of MakerBot), in the direction of captivating open source/makers projects to just gain control over the market. So, any initiative of this kind may be really bad in the long term for the community, even if now it seems to improve the quality of available free, non-OSS tools. That’s just a commercial move driven by the raising size of the makers/open source community. So my point is that we may be more responsable by making a bit of extra effort using OSS when there is an OSS alternative, and specially when the sources of our projects are then going to be released in that specific format. This is kind of meta-open source design thinking: For a project to be really open source, it’s better (but not mandatory at all, of course) that the tools used to develop it are also open source. This way, both the community and the author keep control of the project, cutting dependencies on non predictable entities. And even better: with OSS the author can also freeze a complete copy of the toolchain used and upload it to any repository, allowing the whole project to be alive and easy to be developed, even if the original author is not maintaining it anymore. I personally have done that with a toolchain, and that saved a lot of time to the people contributing to the project. And once the toolchain changed things that we were not able to keep pace of, the value of having done the extra effort was shown.

      1. This is not just about believes, this is about having access to the tools in the future, thus, it’s finally about project maintenance (which is a big part of a project’s cost) without having to depend on third party decisions. Here one of the main problems is the obligation of storing everything on their servers, given them complete control for the long term.

      2. Next time when someone complains about their os/software/development environments, just remember that there are people working in the sewers or other more yucky places doing what no others want to do… (and we even have a TV show for that!)

        These people are the real professional.

      1. I agree. Eagle does not compare with Altium. Sadly, when KiCad become more usable, it was too late for some open source companies which already had everything made and released in Eagle. KiCad is probably not as capable as Altium either, but at least a lot of its (relatively) new features makes it a better option to Altium than nearly any other low end, low cost, or even free alternatives out there. But yes, installing KiCad may still be a problem for most users, specially when not running Linux. That’s were it may worth to put a lot of effort from the community!

        1. This is not true for a long time now. Installing KiCAD using kicad-winbuilder on Windows is a complete no-brainer. Check it out:

          Download, unpack, start a bat file and the rest is done for you. There are no prerequisites, there is no need to install some crazy half-linux build system on windows, it’s all sandboxed and done automagically for you. After a while, depending on how fast your machine is, you have the most fresh build you can get and you can update it as often as you feel like. Give it a try, it’s worth it.

          1. I’m glad to hear that! I was using a distro from 2014 where I needed to download a lot of libraries from GitHub my self and then edit stuff here and there. It worked just fine (although a bit unstable when using the PCB editor). So if this installer works as you say, it’s another reason to use KiCad. Thanks!

          2. Good luck! Libraries are pulled automatically from GitHub, but apparently not all of them get activated automatically (maybe it’s just a mixup of old and new configs on my machine though). Or maybe they are trying to sanitize the existing libraries and only let the proven ones out, I’m not sure.

  26. Altium is a complete piece of shit compared with the rest. Big program, with lots of bugs, that will you drive crazy when doing the most simple things. The SCH editor is simply shit, no better than any, if you dont trust me, use the drag tool and try to move a wire, you’ll probably end up deleting the wire and tracing new one. In the PCB editor, the pain in the ass is multiplied by a factor of thousand.
    Really i recomend always Eagle. Take ideas from altium, and if you’re smart, with scripts you can do much better and save money and time.

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