The design automation industry mailed it in when it convened in Paris for the annual Design Automation and Test Conference Europe. Either the industry is still in a funk we can't appreciate (hard to believe, given the challenges of 90-nanometer design and the resurgence of the chip industry) or, with the rise of India and China, Europe has become irrelevant as a market for tools.
Attendance was up 20 percent over DATE 2003, but there were only 1,250 paying visitors. As is often the case in tumultuous times and tumultuous industries, exhibitors appeared to outnumber visitors 4 to 1. The place was lifeless-which is really, really hard to pull off in Paris.
This was perhaps most evident at the panel sessions, whose question-and-answer periods are ordinarily the most reliable sources of intellectual stimulation at conferences. Granted, European audiences are said to be on the timid side when it comes to Q&A-but that's where the rubber meets the road. The panelists largely speak from self-interest, and it's in challenging them afterward where panels really get interesting. Not so in Paris. Clap, clap. Oh, look, it's time for a cigarette.
The industry's Three Musketeers-Cadence CEO Ray Bingham, Synopsys chief Aart de Geus and Mentor CEO Wally Rhines-can usually be counted on to stir things up, but even for them this DATE was a dud. At least de Geus' animated speech turned up the volume as he raised the specter of Moore's Law's demise and then enthusiastically slapped down each straw man he set up. EDA's the answer to Moore's Law skeptics, he hollered. Almost no one questioned him.
There were isolated flares of energy. An IMEC-sponsored panel on interconnect issues below 90 nm sparked plenty of give-and-take with the audience. The background chatter increased when the discussion turned to network-on-chip methodologies, which promise to solve some of the design-complexity problems that hamstring engineers today.
Maybe it was the dumpy conference-hall surroundings this year. Maybe the lure of bistros, fine wine and rich food were all too distracting. Maybe everyone is keeping their powder dry for the Design Automation Conference in San Diego in June.
Whatever the reason, the people who are supposed to keep us on Moore's Law didn't inspire confidence in our collective future.