Commercial EDA vendors aren't keen on talking about open-source hardware design tools. You can see why: If someone can find what they need for free, they might not want to pay $10,000 or $100,000 for a commercial tool package. One reason that average selling prices are low in the software-development industry is the prolific use of open-source tools.
But I'm going to suggest that open-source EDA tools pose little or no threat to commercial vendors, and are in fact a positive thing for the design community. No open-source EDA tool has come close to the widespread adoption of, say, the GNU C compiler. Open-source EDA adoption by large electronics OEMs, which want and need support, is very limited.
But open-source EDA tools have helped thousands of students, consultants and hobbyists, as well as internal CAD departments that are writing their own software anyway. And open-source tools can seed new markets, as has the open-source SystemC software. Open-source tools can also be a boon for engineers who can't afford commercial software, including many in the developing world.
At last week's EDA Consortium meeting, investor Lucio Lanza noted that the value of an EDA company is in its expertise, not its software. "The same CD you charge your customers $1 million for is going to be available in the streets of Shanghai for $5," he said. Given that reality, why not offer scaled-down versions of commodity tools on an open-source basis? The same students and engineers who use open-source software today may become paying customers in the future, as they move into companies and positions that require partners with some real expertise.
By Richard Goering (firstname.lastname@example.org), design automation editor for EE Times