Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Open Source Software in Mechanical Computer-Aided Design/Drafting - Part 1 (precursor)

This post is sort of a pre-cursor to what I hope to delve into with this blog i.e. try to identify the state of the art/research of Open Source Software (OSS) in Mechanical Computer-Aided Design (MCAD), Product Data Management (PDM) and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM).

While open source software has had its fair share of success in numerous technology domains e.g. operating system kernels (Linux), operating systems ( Debian, Red Hat), web browsing ( Mozilla Firefox), databases (MySQL), middleware ( JBoss) and others, there is not much we hear about open source in the domain of manufacturing e.g . computer-aided design or product data management. I believe this is primarily due to the following reasons:

  1. Firstly the end users of CAD software are not usually programmers. This means that unlike the other popular open source projects the end users of CAD will not contribute code back to the open source software they are using.
  2. Secondly programmers rarely delve into the domain of CAD (of course this is when compared to the number of programmers in the other OSS projects)
  3. Thirdly (and I believe the most important) most CAD companies such as PTC, Dassault , UGS and Autodesk rarely foster an open attitude or community for their products. These companies build strictly proprietary software providing little in terms of interoperability between each other. Sound familiar? Companies such as Microsoft have been accused of this kind of behavior for decades. But CAD companies, while not as big as Microsoft, will not have such accusations hurled at them and one reason is that there is no clear Monopolist.
So where does this leave open source projects? Well that is what I intend to find out - what kind of support can open source projects give to the users when dealing with MCAD?

Well it turns out from scouring the web that the idea of using open source software for CAD design is quite common but most leads do not end well. While open source software has some great advantages over its proprietary counterparts in other domains, when it comes to CAD, proprietary software has little competition from open source counterparts.

With the next few posts I will try and identify some successful open source CAD projects in addition to some of the not so successful. You may also find some free MCAD software mentioned here even though they are not truly open source. I do not intend this to be a comprehensive list as I but one individual. If I have missed an important open source CAD project do let me know and I will review and include it.

I invite any comments you may have as it would help improve the quality of future posts.

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