Exclusive interview with Autodesk about the CadSoft EAGLE purchase! @autodesk @CadSoftTech @technolomaniac

Eagle Has Landed Autodesk Cadsoft


We posted up last week (and in our daily “Maker Business newsletter @ adafruitdaily.com) that Autodesk PURCHASED CadSoft EAGLE, not just a one-seat license, the entire thing 🙂

What does this mean for makers? We’ll see! As far as how much it sold for, looks like we’d need to know the total net debt Premier Farnell and then subtract 8%. Based on a quick search, it appears total net debt for 2015 was about $272m, so maybe – about $20m to $22m ? About 5 years ago, back on MAKE, Autodesk purchased Instructables (overview).

Matt Berggren (Director of Autodesk Circuits) was able to give this exclusive interview to Adafruit after the purchase! Thank you Matt!

Matt, what’s your role at Autodesk, specifically which group are you in and tell us a little about Autodesk for the folks who don’t exactly know. Feel free to share your background working at Altium, SupplyFrame/Hackaday, etc!
I joined Autodesk from Supplyframe, which as many of the Adafruit folks know, are the “overlords” that now own Hackaday 🙂 and also Tindie, Findchips and heaps of other engineering-friendly sites. Prior to that, I spent much of my career at Altium.

The goal from the outset at Autodesk was to really round out the product portfolio with the tools necessary to design and manufacture the whole product. When I signed on, I took on not just the electronics tools, but also the maker/hacker/startup portfolio. So where technically I’m the Director of Autodesk Circuits, the other tools within my team include Tinkercad, the 123D apps, and now of course EAGLE. And I’m one of the lucky ones that gets to work out of the manufacturing workshop at Pier 9 in San Francisco.

Though older engineers might immediately associate Autodesk with AutoCAD and Inventor, we are actually hugely diversified, with tools for manufacturing, additive and subtractive, architecture large and small, factory planning, mechanical engineering, media and entertainment, including game design, and a lot more.

What is the electronics portfolio of products at Autodesk? What is Tinkercad, 123D for example?
Autodesk really began its move into electronics with the acquisition of Circuits.io and the launch of 123D Circuits, which provides, amongst other things, a breadboard tool with an integrated cycle-accurate simulator, capable of simulating even microprocessors. The focus here was really on makers. So imagine that you’re modeling a design on the breadboard, with an Arduino and a Neopixel ring, 123D Circuits enables you build this all on a virtual breadboard, write code for the MCU, and even simulate it (with all the wonky WS2812 timing stuff in there). Along with your standard parts, we’ve gone ahead and modeled more sophisticated things like the ESP8266 enabling you to build a web server and interact with it, without yet owning the parts.

The goal here was something completely interactive. So there are switches and buttons and sensors and servos and motors, and you can play with them all, testing your design, in full simulation (without all of the SPICE know-how and non-convergence mess), before you even start physically building. We also included benchtop tools like a meter, a DC supply and others, to build up working simulations of a design in the browser before connecting components on the bench.

Tinkercad is a super clean, straight forward set of mechanical design tools for makers, hackers and the like. And similar to 123D Design, you can do 3D design and printing from Tinkercad. However, where 123D Design is a desktop modeler, Tinkercad was built to run in the browser with a much lighter footprint.

And finally the 123D tools are really a collection of apps. So where most people know 123D Design, which is the 3D modeler, 123D Catch is a 3D capture tool with a mobile app and 123D Make is a slicer that you can use to slice large models into individual layers to be laser cut from things like cardboard (automatically generating the supports as it processes the design).

Why did Autodesk purchase Cadsoft EAGLE?
EAGLE really represents a major step forward for Autodesk into the world of the “whole product”. So where previously we had tools for both mechanical design and manufacturing; the goal with EAGLE was to widen the range of tools to enable people –whether they were makers or professionals—to build whole “things.” And as so much of what we’re building these days includes the sorts of electrical and software intelligence people need to make devices do interesting stuff, it made a ton of sense to add board-level design to Autodesk.

Adding board level design to the Autodesk portfolio is an interesting and sensible move 🙂 Given the significant differences between the UI and workflow in EAGLE and most Autodesk products, though, how do you plan to integrate EAGLE into the Autodesk ecosystem without isolating existing customers who have years of experience with EAGLE’s admittedly quirky UI?
I think in some ways one of the things that makes EAGLE special to so many people is its UI. Speaking from experience, there is zero playbook when you build a UI for a tool that is so specific to a domain, especially when you began this long before there were UI standards out there (remember EAGLE is more than 25 years in the making). So I credit the EAGLE developers with managing to build a tool that isn’t surrounded by so much fluff! Can we make improvements? Of course we can, but it’s always a balance and we have to avoid compromising its simplicity for more menu options and workspace panel-creepage.

If you look at Fusion or even Inventor, you’ll notice that as our tools have gotten better, all of the interfaces have actually gotten simpler so I think it’s all trending in the same direction.

Autodesk and a lot of other companies tend to focus on ‘subscription based’ and ‘cloud based’ software. Cadsoft EAGLE is firmly neither. Will you transition Cadsoft EAGLE to subscription or cloud based? What benefits to engineers would you see to either if you will?
At this time, we’re still planning to continue to develop the EAGLE technology, while making it more tightly integrated with other Autodesk products to enable a better workflow from design to manufacturing. In the short term, I’m particularly interested in taking a closer look at EAGLE’s core, such as hierarchy, modularity / reuse, routing, revision management and libraries. And of course, better mechanical integration!

It’s always been a mystery to many folks who use Cadsoft EAGLE, what percentage of Cadsoft EAGLE users use DesignLink and PCB Quote to purchase parts and PCBs? (not just Quote, actually follow up and purchase!)
There are just so many ways we can improve these services so it’s definitely something we’ll be looking at, some of which we’ll look to do sooner rather than later.

What does Autodesk think of Cadsoft EAGLE ‘s free with limited functionality version and is it something they see continuing in the future? Could there be more free editions of other Autodesk products?
This is essential to EAGLE’s success – period. So yes, we will continue to make the freeware version of EAGLE available. We’ll also be zeroing out the educational license and making the 6-layer version available free to students and faculty for non-commercial work. We’ve done this in part to bring this into line with all Autodesk products (Fusion and Inventor for example are all free to students and startups making less that $100K / year) but also because the 6-layer license finally makes it possible for students to begin designing wireless (impedance controlled feed lines for example tend to be pegged against a plane layer) and likewise use more sophisticated memory busses (like DDR) which also require impedance controls.

Eagle has great support for every desktop platform (windows, mac, linux) — is support for all those platforms something Autodesk sees as a priority going forward? Could cross platform support (like Linux support in particular) come to other Autodesk software life Fusion 360?
This is something we’re definitely aiming for. Fusion already runs under Windows and Mac so we have those OS’s covered. The goal is always to find the best way to address this and as connectivity becomes better, this opens up some interesting new ways to serve applications that work across platforms.

Are there plans to simplify the number of types of Cadsoft EAGLE? There are over 50 license types!
Yes, we’re looking to streamline the different license types pretty substantially (without dropping the licenses targeted at makers, startups, and students of course).

This will enable the development and product teams to focus their energy on adding features rather than supporting a whole host of different license configurations.

A loooong time ago the open-source community and Cadsoft EAGLE worked together to make sure there was an open-like export/import (XML) – This was really helpful to reassure makers that there will always be portability for their designs. Since this will be asked a lot, can Autodesk confirm and commit to keeping this feature/support?
The XML format isn’t going away! Eagle users have only benefitted from this openness and from the efforts of the open source community. Take OSHpark or Othermachine as examples. Users in those cases are the beneficiary of a better experience as a direct result of the open format.

How/where can makers or any customers of Cadsoft EAGLE participate in giving feedback, suggestions, or just ask questions about all this?
EAGLE will continue to be sold and supported by the Cadsoft team and we’re super excited to have them on board. If anyone has specific questions, by all means let the team know and we’ll answer any questions anyone has.

UPDATE: The community had an additional questions, here it is!

You mentioned that you were moving towards a free educational license for students and faculty to use on non-commercial projects, which is great news. I was hoping that you could clarify how you are thinking about non-commercial restrictions under that license. As you may know, some members of the open source hardware community are concerned that making their designs available without commercial use restrictions could violate a non-commercial restriction, even if they themselves are not distributing the file commercially. Is this something that they should be concerned about?

MB – Autodesk: If a user’s building open source hardware content to share without commercial intent themselves (though they may absolutely buy a commercial license to use that in commercial products if/when they want to) then they don’t have anything to worry about. The goal in the non-commercial license is really to enable this sort of behavior. If we really look at what makes EAGLE’s community so special (and open source in general) it’s the content and the content creators willing share and to enable us all to collectively build products faster, more reliably and to teach one another how new things are done. I’d heard Adafruit described as a ‘tutorial company with a gift shop’ and I think this is the spirit of what makes this community so amazing. I share a ton of my stuff under open source license for precisely this reason. We all benefit when we share and collaborate and this is something this license is intended to enable.

Special thank to:
Claire Collins
Manufacturing Public Relations

Jennifer Gentrup
Public Relations Manager

both from Autodesk!

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  1. I noticed he never answered the subscription question. Subscriptions only benefit the company, never the casual user. It would be a shame to switch Eagle over.

  2. While subscriptions may be of limited use to hobbyists, I’m a huge fan of them for small business and startups.

    First, it typically ensures timely and useful tech support with a single point of contact, which eliminates the time spent doing searches on StackExchange or in various forums. I’m a big fan of professional tech support, and can’t count the times it has saved my bacon.

    Second, subscription revenue gives the company a canary to let them know when an update fails hard: The immediate loss of subscription revenue can cause heads to roll! Compare this to the common reaction of large companies to complaints about updates: Either ignore them, or create "knowledgebase" or FAQ entries with wimpy work-arounds.

    Third, in most cases, failing to maintain a subscription does NOT cause the product to be disabled: You just lose access to updates, professional tech support, and perhaps access to other online resources provided with the package (such as parts catalogs, board ordering services, etc.). The tool itself will continue to work, with or without a subscription.

    Most or all of the above may be irrelevant to the hobbyist. But when that hobbyist has a great idea, then creates a Kickstarter campaign and wants to transition to a startup, having subscriptions available for their favorite tools can be a huge business enabler and risk reducer, helping to minimize the all-important time-to-market.

    There is nothing worse than for a 3-person startup to lose time futzing with tools at 3AM. You really need to be able to call in the "big guns" and let them diagnose and fix the tool, while you continue to design and build your product. Just a single incident like this makes subscriptions look like a dirt-cheap investment with great yields, even if only as insurance for peace of mind.

    Finally, committed hobbyists will always have Kicad, IMHO by far the most capable fully-Free (Open Source and zero-cost) PCB package available. Unlike some of the zero-cost versions of commercial tools, it doesn’t require you to make your designs public.

    Kicad is truly great, but without professional tech support I couldn’t risk my business on it.

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