Free Software Computer Aided Design (CAD): a summary
Computer Aided Design software is critically important to a variety of industries and professions. It’s also notorious for being poorly catered for by Free Software applications. Here’s a brief summary of the current situation.
The .DWG issue
DWG (“drawing”) is currently the industry standard file format for CAD: it is also a proprietary file format.
“As frustrating as it is, [these] are the options right now for CAD
on [GNU/Linux]: non-Free Software that supports DWG, or free
software that doesn’t” [From LWN].
Freedom and .DWG
LibreDWG is the Free Software library for converting between DWG and other formats. While progress with LibreDWG is being made for reading DWG files “nothing uses the library, so it is of limited use on its own”. There may be work done this summer as part of Google Summer of Code (GSOC) to implement support for DWG 2000 and DWG 2004, which would presumably be very useful.
Working without DWG
The DWG issue aside, here are some other routes you could take:
- KiCad is a Free Software suite “for electronic design automation (EDA) – designing schematics of electronic circuits and printed circuit boards (PCB). KiCad is developed by Jean-Pierre Charras, and features an integrated environment with schematic capture, bill of materials list, and PCB layout.” The OpenMoko Community, creator of the Wikireader uses KiCAD for its hardware design.
- CADEMIA “is a modern CAD system with a full functionality for civil engineering and architecture.” CADEMIA, which was originally written for teaching and research, is Free Software, easily customisable and platform independent.
- FreeCAD “is a general purpose 3D CAD modeller… aimed directly at mechanical engineering and product design but also fits in a wider range of uses around engineering, such as architecture or other engineering specialities” . FreeCAD itself is Free Software, and is licensed under GPL & LGPL. The libraries upon which it depends however are likely not Free Software, and controversy continues to surround its dependency Open CASCADE. Packages are now available for various GNU/Linux distributions (FreeCAD is in Debian and Ubuntu Universe repositories), it may therefore be easier to pressure the organisations into releasing the offending library under Free licenses.
The problems with DWG are currently unsolved (above suggestions notwithstanding). However, projects like LibreCAD for 2D, KiCAD for electronics, FreeCAD for 3D, and LibreDWG for conversion may offer solutions in the near future.
What can you do?
Contact as many of the related organisations and projects as possible and tell them about your needs and interests. If nothing else, this will help to demonstrate a continued demand within the community for workable solutions, and open channels of communications for future developments.
This post originated as an email to the Director of ONAWI: “A non-profit organisation that aims to directly contribute to a just transition towards climate change mitigation by making designs of wind turbines freely available to all”.
Thanks for FSFE volunteer Anna Morris for turning it into an article for my blog!