I spoke with Matt Berggren, the new product manager for EAGLE, after Autodesk’s purchase of CADSoft. Matt has designed countless boards in his career, found his way to being the head of circuits at Autodesk. He’s a bit of a Maker/Hacker himself. He’s visited many maker spaces, expos, teaching circuit design and recently, how to use EAGLE.
My main goal of the interview was to find out why EAGLE is so valuable and where it’s all headed. Of course, how the acquisition will give us all a better PCB layout product.
Subject: The beginning, the new state of the team. Increasing the size of the team.
1: Cabe- Is it still a very small team of people? (Referring to the Munich CADsoft team that had less than 10 people).
Matt- Well it sort of depends on the scope. So I would say that, just in the time since we've acquired it, I've increased it almost five X. From what it was previously. But obviously with that, we have to be very very careful that.
Well, so notice a number of those developer resources are not 100% dedicated to CADsoft. But I've got a pool of developers which are available to me more broadly around circuit design and electronics engineering, and sort of that hybrid mechatronics workflow. And so the combination of resources that I've got, a number of those folks are specialized in certain areas which may not be 100% dedicated to just CADsoft. Say, for example, the interface to manufacturing. Or, more specifically, something like the interface to a pick and place machine.
I've got roboticists on my team, and that's in large part of robotics problem, as much as it is an objects problem, as much as it is a whole variety of other software problems. And so leveraging those resources to help make it possible to have a better interface between EAGLE and, say, the assembly side of the manufacturing workflow. I've got those resources and I'll repurpose them however I need to, to really make those things happen.
Subject: Why Autodesk acquired CADsoft.
2: Cabe- Why was CADsoft so valuable to you guys?
Matt- Well, I think if you sort of look at what EAGLE's role has been in the market, and I come at it from a very traditional schematic and PCB tools background. I worked on P-CAD, I worked on Altium Designer before joining Autodesk and those tools, despite their capabilities, haven't gained the sort of widespread adoption that something like EAGLE has.
And it sort of begs the question well, what does EAGLE have that the other tools maybe don't? And I think the one really obvious thing to attribute to it is that there was a free version, and that is was cross-platform. And all of these things sort of lend themselves to the open source ethos, that now is so much a part of the electronics community where previously it wasn't. And so as open source hardware started to increase so did EAGLE's adoption. Because it was one of the few tools that had a freeware version, that had an open file format.
Is there more content for EAGLE than there is probably than any other package on the planet? Absolutely, yes. Is there a larger community for EAGLE than there is for any other product on the planet? Yes, absolutely.
Cabe- I see, and it's all based around that free version, right?
Matt- Yeah, the existing EDA tools, they can count their numbers of active users in the tens of thousands. EAGLE can count them in the millions. So that difference, in terms of sheer numbers. And that's not me blowing smoke, you can look at the revenue dollars for something like ECAD, or Pads, or Altium Designer, any of the other sort of tools that are out there.
Look at the revenue dollars, and then figure out what the average licence cost is, come up with an ASP, which is just an average price per. And then divide that by the total revenue and you come up with something like, they might have 50,000, 60,000 customers or something like that.
(Essentially, CADsoft has more users than most other platforms and the free version is popular among the maker communities)
Subject: Autodesk looks to gain the maker crowd with the acquisition of CADsoft.
3: Cabe- EAGLE is the favorite among all of my hacker and maker friends, and I was thinking is that a group of people that Autodesk wants to focus on going forward?
Matt- Yeah, absolutely and I think that the real focus there is not so much in a sense that they are. Well, the thing that's essential for that community is developing the whole thing and Autodesk's view of the world is that the problem isn't an electronics problem, it's the whole products problem.
And how do we solve the whole product problem and part of the reason is that it's a hard problem to solve. But it’s the position that I certainly take, and I think Autodesk more broadly and one of the reasons why I elected to take on the position was that sense of ‘it's a hard problem’ but if we're not solving hard problems then what is it that we're doing?
If you look at what Autodesk has done in terms of company transformation over the course of the last five years, seven years, a lot of it attributable to the executive management team, in no small way attributable to Carl Bass himself. They were a big monolithic company and not a lot of people knew who the CEO of Autodesk was 15, 20 years ago. But as the companies emerged kind of in this new age, they'd emerged so strongly, a really strong play in media and entertainment, right, with Macs and Maya and a whole variety of other fantastic tools for film and video and game design and whatnot.
But then also, in the maker community, with the development of Peer Nine or the creation of Peer Nine, the artist in residence program really actually, actively making an effort to become a part of that community. So not trying to phone it in from the outside, which I think is something that's attributable to a lot of the other folks. And I don't mean to sort of dash the competition, but I think there are a lot of companies out there who are willing to make sort of half steps into that community. For why the community doesn't rally around them.
Subject: CADsoft Eagle aims to remain free, so that’s a plus.
4: Cabe- Okay, going back to Eagle, I was going to say that the free version is a big draw, right? Are you guys going to keep that going forward? Or and if so, are you going to add more functionality to it as time goes on?
Matt- Yeah, so first of all, yes, the answer to will we keep it going forward, yeah, absolutely, a resounding yes. What's more, just since the acquisition, we've actually made a more sophisticated version available for education for free. So that was a decision that I had made, where historically, the version that was available to students was the freeware version, it was two layers and pretty limited functionality. And with a background around wireless and RF electronics, I just recognized that kids these days are adding WiFi to things, they're adding Bluetooth to things.
As somebody who courses, is both in and out of university, I would love the opportunity to be able to explain to kids how you develop a circuit with a feed line that's tagged against the corresponding plane so I can match impedances. Then I'd like to introduce the whole concept of impedances and how that ties into reactants and how that gets me to my selectivity- and that gets us to Smith charts and it gets us to an understanding of more sophisticated wireless electronic systems.
Subject: Continuing on with a focus on education.
5: Cabe- So would you say education is a focus too?
Matt- Education is a huge focus particularly for Autodesk at this stage. We own Instructables, which is a number one tutorial site on the web in terms of amount of traffic, in terms of amount of content. And I think it's incumbent on us to find ways to leverage that technology, to make it possible for people to teach other people. I think that's the transformation that we are going through right now, just in general and in education, is that my expectation is almost as if, if I can't find a video for how to do it on YouTube, it probably can't be done.
I think it's our job to figure out what those new sources of media and new outlets for teaching and educating and enabling people are leveraging them in the right way. So whether it's a video which is inline into a series of instructions which shows up on Instructables and the video is hosted on YouTube, I think the problem is really a problem of triangulating those, those resources in making them available.
One of the things that's been really, really cool (with 123circuits), has been that 123D Circuits provides a series of lessons which show up in a side panel as you're using the software and that's enabled by the browser experience. Without getting into too much detail, it's actually fed by the Instructables API- so the content is actually fed through an API by Instructables. That content can be co-located on Instructables and then also be available inside of that 123D Circuits context.
I think it's something that we wanna continue to chase after, it's that ability to bring more of that learning and education sort of experience directly into the software. Now without making it the sort of thing where you have to open up the software to get to it.
Subject: Will there be a browser-based version? The outcome is ambiguous.
6: Cabe- Is CadSoft eventually going to make it into a browser version?
Matt- Well, I think it certainly has the potential, well let me frame it this way- There is definitely an online experience for a circuit design tool. Whether or not that means that you've gotta draw your schematics and create your circuit boards into browser, I think a lot of software is looking at do we need to be there?
Would there be enough benefit to the user, is what I care about. If somebody turned to me and said, hey we should go to the Circuit Design browser to run that software. I would turn to them and ask why and what's the value?
What we found with 123D Circuits is that there is tremendous value when you make those tools available for people, you provide them with really good, fun sort of unique experiences like the interactivity that you have in the Breadboard editor there.
I do like the idea of being able to view a schematic in the browser, being able to move wires around, make connections. Probe into a component and see what its part parameters are and things like that. Everything on 123D Circuits, if you note at the bottom of the page when you have the project loaded, there is an option to grab the iFrame for that circuit, whether it's systematic, it's PCP or it's Breadboard.
You can inline that into an Instructable, into a forum post, into your blog, into whatever and it will maintain it's ability to stimulate it, that is really interesting. Because I think, as I said, there's such a transformation going on with education, that this creates an opportunity for people to produce content, in new an interesting ways, and then socialize it.
If all of the content is focused and the emphasis is about producing that content, or the emphasis is on producing that content, and socializing it, then we sort of find ourselves locked in a desktop experience, which is not a great way forward. I don't know if that seems a bit evasive? That should be one experience, what I mean by that is that you shouldn't think about circuits this thing and CAD's off this thing. It should be the eagle experience, and there's an online component to that experience and there's a desktop component to that experience.
Subject: New tools integrated into the CADsoft platform in the future.
7: Cabe- I have used that E care.io software online where you put in a PCB and you can get a 3D model out of it, is that going to be a part of eagle in the future?
Matt- Yeah, hands down it will be. So the way that I sort of frame ecad.io internally today is "ecad.io is a feature parading as a product right now," but ultimately that gives us a means by which to test what ECAD.io is good for, and test it without feeling that we have to rush off and build it into a piece of software right away. So the future is bi-directional synchronization between electrical and mechanical and very few companies understand mechanical like we do.
Subject: What the future holds for Autodesk and CADsoft.
8: Cabe- I was just wondering is there something big planned in the near future for CAD soft and autodesk that you can talk about like something that's really going to be surprising?
Matt- I don't know that it will necessarily be surprising because I think if you took a straw poll of the Eagle community and you said hey guys what do you think, what do you think you need? They would come back with obstacle avoidance and routing. They would come back with trace hogging. They would come back with multi track routing. Then come back with pushing and shoving. They would come back with, things like, better sort of hierarchy and modularity in terms of modularity and reuse of circuit elements.
They would come back with better tools for designing footprints and making sure that footprints are accurate and easy to use, or guaranteed to work when you go to manufacturing. There should be one click one kill manufacturing right? I press a button and a board comes back and I can tell you that every one of those things is in development right now and if you stick around for 12 months those things are gonna start rolling out.
What we do beyond that is even more exciting, but I don't like to talk about that second horizon too much because I think it gets a bit too head wavy.
---- end of the interview ----
As I post this, I am sure EAGLE has a slew of even newer features and capabilities. I hope to keep us all informed of anything new before it even comes out. More on this later…
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