Missing In Action: Open-Source EDA Tools

By Dean ~ January 13th, 2009. Filed under: Industry.

Paul McLellan has written an extremely interesting post over on EDN‘s EDA Graffiti blog.  He presents a series of well reasoned arguments explaining the lack of open-source tools in the commercial EDA industry (disregarding some of the programs in the academic world).  Mr. McLellan summarizes his discussion as follows:

“So the result of all of this in the world of tools for software development is that all the best tools are open source, but nobody can make any money selling them. This works fine as long as enough people like Sun and IBM pay their developers to do open source development on the basis they make money on the hardware, or enough programmers do this in their spare time for fun (and because if you want a job at somewhere like Google, one of the things they’ll take a look at is what open source projects you work on after hours). But there are no Microsofts of open source, no Oracles nor Adobes. Not even Intuits or Mathworks.

IC design tools are all closed source, apart from a few bits of infrastructure like openAccess. Synopsys isn’t about to give you the source code for Design Compiler just because you bought a license, and they certainly aren’t going to put it up on the web so Cadence can grab themselves a copy too. It is arguable whether the quality would even improve that much if they did so since most of the users are not itching to get into the millions of lines of source code and add a few enhancements.”

One of the things that I found particularly interesting about this post was the quality of the comments.  Atypical relative to most blog dialog, the comments were not only thoughtful, but they actually contributed to the discussion.  EDA Graffiti appears to be a relatively new blog, and it’s well worth a look.  I hope that Mr. McLellan keeps up the excellent work.  I’m a recent subscriber.

Back to the point, I believe that there is another important factor in the lack of traction for open-source in EDA.  Quite simply, the pool of engineers who have both the domain expertise and the skills to make a meaningful contribution to sophisticated EDA tools is relatively small.  Further, most of these folks are already working either for EDA companies or for internal tools groups at the big semiconductor firms.  Given the employment agreements that I’ve signed over the years, I suspect that most of these specialized people aren’t particularly free to contribute to an open source effort in their “personal” time.

Of course, the dynamics of the complex system design industry are somewhat different from those encountered in EDA.  However, as we’ve considered open source strategies for Foresight, we discussed nearly all of the challenges presented in Mr. McLellan’s post, as well as in the comments.  We came to the same conclusions.  Open source software clearly has a role in software development (we use it extensively for our own internal infrastructure and tools), and, perhaps, in providing components of a system design solution.  Unfortunately, it’s probably not an appropriate foundation for technology that’s core to our business.  It will be interesting to see how the efforts at OVPWorld play out for our friends at Imperas.


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1 Response to Missing In Action: Open-Source EDA Tools

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