The hardware fraternity at CERN believes that KiCad can do to PCB design what the GCC compiler did to software.
One of the main issues the open hardware community must overcome to reach a maturity level akin to that of open-source is the lack of state-of-the-art free/open EDA (electronic design automation) tools. Being aware of this, CERN's Hardware and Timing team is actively working on bringing a new generation of free/open PCB design tools to the masses. (See also A Guide to Low-Cost PCB Tools.)
Over the course of recent years, a plethora of free/libre open-source software schematic capture and PCB layout tools have unsuccessfully tried to jump the quality gap required to build complex multilayer boards. One of the newest, but more popular, arrivals is KiCad. This is a complete suite that includes features such as a schematic capture editor and a layout tool for the creation of professional-level schematics and printed circuit boards up to 16 layers. There's also an integrated 3D board and Gerber file viewer. Licensed under GPLv2 and able to run on GNU/Linux, Windows, and Apple OS X, KiCad is the ideal choice for the PCB hobbyist.
The hardware fraternity at CERN believes that KiCad can do to PCB design what the GCC compiler did to software, letting design and development knowledge flow more freely in the open hardware community. But there is a long way to go, and a lot of improvements to be made, before reaching this ambitious goal.
In order to achieve this goal, CERN is actively working on a set of work packages targeted to bring KiCad up to par with the features of the proprietary PCB tools required for designing complex multilayer and high-density boards. By closely collaborating with the main KiCad development team, these packages are expected to be progressively integrated into the mainstream tool code in the near future.
While I was spending a week in Geneva this September, Tomasz Wlostowski and Maciej "Orson" Sumiński from CERN's Beam Controls Hardware and Timing group gave me the opportunity to view some amazing live demonstrations of the new advanced capabilities they are developing for KiCad. The video below demonstrates some of these features, including the push-and-shove router capabilities and a hardware accelerated graphics abstraction layer that enables advanced layout visualization modes.
In addition to these already-working enhancements, additional future work packages in CERN's roadmap for KiCad are integrated circuit simulator support for differential pairs and bus routing capabilities for high-speed interfaces. In order to get more information about the planned new features, you can visit the CERN BE-CO-HT contribution to KiCad official project site.
If you are interested in helping CERN contribute to more and faster KiCad development, you should consider visiting their donation page. CERN's promise is that all such donations will be put to immediate use in developing KiCad.
Have you ever tried working with free/libre open-source PCB design tools? If so, I would love to hear about your experiences.