Sunday, November 25, 2007

Looking at Cad on Linux a little deeper.

As I have said using Linux as a engineering desktop can be a bit of a frustration. There a number of well developed programs for circuit design and pc board design but for drawing wiring diagrams and regular 2d drafting there is not much to speak of. Yes, there is Qcad, a free 2D drafting program that runs natively on Linux. But so far everybody who has written about it only says that it is easy to use. I would like to hear from someone who is actually using it. You know, a step by step, play by play description of using it. That would be very sweet. I did run into another possibility and that is to run a MS Windows based Cad program in Linux with Wine. Now it is not a perfect solution as there are little gotchas when using Wine. The first problem is committing to using the program in the first place. This means paying for it. Deciding which Cad program is not so easy. There are very few free Cad programs on any platform. Free is often reserved for time limited trials and crippled demos. It is even hard to find copies of old software on the Internet. These companies realize that Cad software is used to make money and they watch very closely how the programs are distributed so they can make money also. So, what is the problem? For architectural and mechanical design work, which covers the most Cad use, a full featured 2d/3d cad package can handle all the work. For electrical design a 2d package can usually handle the work. It is such a waste to pay for the full featured package and only use a small portion of it. Most Cad software companies have addressed this situation by offering a "lite" version, but it still cost something. The second problem is knowing if the program will run under Wine without headaches. On the Wine web site there is a list of programs known to run under Wine, it is not extensive. This does not mean it will not run, just that it is not documented. So, let's see, you have to pay for a Cad program but if you don't need the big full featured Cad you can buy the lite version. Then you must know if it will run under Wine if you are using Linux. I will add to this if you install the program and you can not use your peripherals to your ideal of comfort, you might have to make adjustments or forget it. I used one program and my wireless mouse did not respond correctly, so I had to bring out the PS/2 mouse. Sometimes under Wine, some parts of a program do not function smoothly or at all. It depends on the program. Especially when using a productivity type program, look and feel is very important. Now on my Linux desktop I am trying out Qcad, which is a free Linux based cad and PowerCad which is also called FelixCad and is a MS windows platform product. PowerCad is free for a limited time and so far I do not know of its limitations. I think the time limited versions of software are cool to tryout and learn from but the cost of ownership is often too high. For putting around this is good but if you plan to make money using the software you must decide to spend some. Hobbiest, students and other single users can't always justify the cost and the free versions often suffer from lack of the money incentive to be supported and developed. Maybe and perhaps in the future some in the engineering world will embrace the Linux platform and begin to push for tools on it. With myself pursuing my second career, I don't know if I can spend much energy doing Cad work, but I will continue to play with my choices just to have something to rant and rave about. Stay tuned..........

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