August 03, 2009
Open Source An Alternative CAD Source?
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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I don’t attend nearly as many software conferences as I used to, because frankly, there just aren’t as many as there used to be. With travel expenses keenly in mind, I’ve also become very selective of the conferences I do choose to attend. I’ve been increasingly curious about some alternatives to traditional proprietary software, so I had been looking for a comprehensive venue to learn about the open source software movement and community. In other words, one-stop shopping for a rudimentary education on open source, and luckily, I found it.

I just returned from attending the
O’Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) 2009 in San Jose, CA. I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I got there, but by the time I left I was very impressed by what has been accomplished so far, as well as the ambitious plans for the future by this very smart, socially aware, and fascinating community. I came dressed in business casual attire, and immediately realized I was over-dressed. However, I was encouraged to hang out with the folks in T-shirts, and vice versa. Feeling a bit uneasy when I arrived to this new world, I was immediately and continually welcomed into the fold as the week went by, and was
actually encouraged to ask questions (I can say that none of my many questions were dismissed as dumb or uninformed). I was there to learn and I learned a lot.

One of the messages that I particularly enjoyed was the fact that even in this terrible economy, open source software is about working not with just technology, but people, and the open source software sector is growing. Open source software is not driven by corporate budgets, but by people fulfilling a need and software freedom. I also learned that the currency of open source is not necessarily money, but rather, beer and T-shirts. Open source software (OSS) projects are built and maintained by a network of volunteer developers and other team members that help with documentation, marketing, etc. While much of the software may be free or very low cost (depending on the licensing
arrangement), there are also independent implementation, customization, and support consultants who are paid for their services.

I learned that there are four basic tenets to open source software:
  • Use the software
  • Study and modify the software to improve it
  • Redistribute the software
  • Participate and give back to the open source community

  • I really felt that this was a refreshing change and difference when compared to most closed, proprietary software.

    When I thought about it, the list of open source software applications is actually quite long. Some of the major open source applications you may have heard about include MySQL, Apache Server, Wordpress, Mozilla Firefox, Joomla, Wordpress, Drupal, just to name a few.

    I found it interesting to hear that all of the members of the European Union (EU) are required to use open source Linux-based software exclusively, and this includes everything from operating systems to office applications. There is also a move afoot here in this country to attempt to do a similar thing. A couple of the major programs are Government 2.0, that hopes to leverage Web 2.0 federated social networks in government, and Open Source for America, that advocates greater acceptance of open source software and efforts.

    Open source Linux actually fostered the emergence of a couple of computer categories – the netbook, including the one laptop per child (OLPC) program where a good percentage are sold with Linux as the operating system.

    As part of shaking things up looking ahead to the future, I sat in on a presentation that discussed what user interfaces might look and feel like in 2020. The presenter, Robin Rowe (no relation) opened his presentation with the question, “How much longer will we be WIMPs? (windows, icons, menus, and pointers)?” He felt that within 10 years, next-generation user interfaces would be comprised of the following capabilities:
  • Gesture
  • Speech
  • Conversation artificial intelligence
  • Image artificial intelligence
  • 3D heads-up display
  • New I/O devices

  • He also said that unlike the past, defense UI applications are not transitioning to commercial applications at nearly the previous rate. As a matter of fact, most are coming out of academic research labs and Hollywood, although he felt that commercial applications were at least a decade behind what is going on in the labs.

    There were a surprising number of vendors in the exhibit hall, including Microsoft. They included several of the Linux distribution organizations, such as Ubuntu, FreeBSD, and openSUSE. There were also some open source companies exhibiting that we have all become familiar with (whether or not we associate them with the open source movement), including Google, Open Office, Intel, Amazon, Facebook, and Novell. However, there were no CAD vendors, per se, at the conference. I asked myself, “Why not?”

    As it turns out, there are quite a few open source CAD efforts taking place. While they yet don’t exactly rival the efforts or capabilities of, say, Siemens or Dassault Systemes, there are several applications out there and available running under Linux, Windows, and Mac operating systems. Some of the 2D and 3D CAD and CAD-related open source applications include Blender, CADEMIA, Open CASCADE, PythonCAD, Free-CAD,Cadvas, BRL-CAD, QCad, and Archimedes. There are also several open source CAM and CAE applications available, as well. There is even a specialized engineering-oriented distribution of Linux called CAE Linux.

    Graphics capabilities (2D and 3D) are improving rapidly under the Linux banner, assisted in part by the Graphics Execution Manager (GEM), that efficiently manages graphics memory in graphics chipsets. GEM was developed by Intel, starting in May 2008, as a minimalist, easy-to-use alternative to the TTM (Translation Table Maps).

    Will the general MCAD vendor community jump on the open source bandwagon? I tend to doubt it, but I am sure that most of the players are watching closely to what transpires as the open source movement continues to grow and evolve. Who knows how the economy, social networking, and the next generation of software users might shape the MCAD software market and how it does business. Open source as a potential future alternative CAD source? It’s already happening.

    If you’re interested in the open source software community, I highly recommend that you attend OSCON 2010, tentatively scheduled for July 2010 in Portland, Oregon. I highly recommend that you take advantage of this great opportunity to learn what open source is all about.

    The Week’s Top 5

    At MCADCafé we track many things, including the stories that have attracted the most interest from our subscribers. Below are the five news items that were the most viewed during last week.

    At the recent Clean Tech Open (CTO) Renewable Energy Symposium, Autodesk introduced the Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program. The program awards "seed" grants consisting of free bundles of Autodesk software to early-stage, clean technology companies working to solve some of the world's most pressing environmental challenges. "We understand the significant role design plays in creating a sustainable future," said Lynelle Cameron, director of sustainability for Autodesk. "The Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program is designed to accelerate innovation and leadership in the clean tech market. As part of our ongoing commitment to global sustainability, Autodesk
    will be working together with emerging clean tech companies to help bring their ideas to market faster and more cost-effectively." Recipients of the Autodesk Clean Tech software grant will receive a collection of Autodesk's top applications:
  • Autodesk Inventor Professional
  • Autodesk Showcase Professional
  • Autodesk Vault Manufacturing
  • Autodesk Navisworks Manage
  • Autodesk Revit Architecture
  • Autodesk Alias Design

  • Each grant has a retail value of up to U.S. $150,000, and will include up to five full commercial licenses of each application.

    SpaceClaim announced the company will enable engineers and industrial designers to leverage Windows Touch to create and edit solid models. SpaceClaim marked the news by releasing a video that demonstrates how multi-touch with SpaceClaim 3D Direct Modeling solutions will impact design and engineering. Recently, SpaceClaim announced that the company was chosen by Microsoft as one of a few select Independent Software Vendors (ISV's) in support of the launch of Windows 7, and by N-trig to support DuoSense dual-mode technology, that allows multi-touch in conjunction with a stylus. Multi-touch -- enabling on-screen objects to be manipulated using multiple fingers -- is becoming mainstream through the launch of Windows 7 from Microsoft. While multi-touch is expected to become common on PC hardware, SpaceClaim is ensuring that 3D design will be one of the earliest and most compelling uses of the technology. SpaceClaim will support any multi-touch hardware that uses Windows 7, including those from 3M, N-trig, HP, Dell, and Lenovo. Windows Touch provides SpaceClaim customers with the most flexibility by augmenting the mouse and keyboard as a new way to interact with solid models.

    You can find the full MCADCafe event calendar here.

    To read more news, click here.

    -- Jeff Rowe, Contributing Editor.

    Review Article
    • Nice introduction August 04, 2009
      Reviewed by 'Gary B'
      Nice introduction for those who have never come across open-source software before, although I bet everyone in the engineering community has actually used it whether they know it or not.
      A lot of the really heavy-hitting open source stuff started life as a code donation from a big company (e.g. OpenOffice, Eclipse IDE, Netscape) which was then taken and improved beyond recognition. I think it will take a code donation from PTC, Dassault or someone to kickstart a really plausible open CAD project. Say CADDS5 or Catia V4?
      I did come across this open source PLM solution which seems to be quite competent if the movie and screenshots are anything to go by. I can't install it here because we prefer to pay lots of money for a proprietary solution ( that seems to be a mostly R&D product ).

        3 of 4 found this review helpful.
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