EDA > Altium Designer

Altium REJECTS takeover bid from Autodesk

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Nominal Animal:

--- Quote from: nctnico on August 27, 2021, 10:59:16 pm ---
--- Quote from: Nominal Animal on August 27, 2021, 10:24:53 pm ---Use true UX professionals, observing actual professionals using various EDA tools, to make the user interface efficient.  Forums like EEVBlog are a good source for ideas to test.  The UX is what makes a package stand out, since any other proprietary EDA vendor can create their own as an upgrade from the free package;

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That won't work because for the occasional PCB layouter an intuitive UI will be the most productive where such a UI will only get in the way of someone doing PCB design all day.

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No, the free/non-professional package targets occasional/hobbyists.  For the professional tools, you want the interface to be efficient and productive.  The two are orthogonal.


--- Quote from: EEVblog on August 27, 2021, 11:05:43 pm ---I can remember doing a KiCAD first impressions video and pointing out all sorts of thing that might suck for daily use, and I got hammered for it. All the people complaining about my comments I'm sure had never worked 8 hours a day every day for 2 months on a single PCB as a full time PCB professional  ::)
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That's exactly why I said one needs to observe how actual professionals do use their tools, before you can even start making a truly effective interface.
What people say is not what they do; and those with the least know-how are often the most vocal.  Those who know, know how complex the situation is, so when there is no simple answer, they just prefer to stay out of the mess.
Observing the actual process and tasks, when the observee knows what they're doing, is how you capture the useful practical knowledge.

Hobbyists and professionals use tools in a completely different way.  To hobbyists, ease of use and intuitiveness is important; that way the use is more like playing with something.  Professionals need to get shit done with as little conscious effort as possible, so that they can direct their efforts where it matters the most.

The ideas for user interfaces one collects, are just that: tentative suggestions to try, not something you adopt immediately.  They do need to be experimented on in practice, preferably with the exact kind of users the tool is supposed to target, before their value can be ascertained.  Even if the idea is from a professional, there may be unseen consequences or side effects that make it impractical.
Practice beats theory, every time.

Fact is, the split is such that a single EDA package can no longer fully cater to both professionals and hobbyists.  The cheap prototyping services were the key to bring this about.  A hobbyist is not going to pay $100 for a license so they can design a $5 PCB or two; and they're not going to want to spend much time learning a tool for a similar reason.  Plus, hobbies are supposed to be fun.

Yet, as we know, hobbies often end up affecting ones career, and open up new opportunities.
So, to capture a larger share of the professional tool market, you need to provide a path for the hobbyists to upgrade to the professional tools, if and when they have obtained the necessary skill.

In the past, it sufficed to make sure your tool is the one used in educating new engineers.  This still applies to e.g. office software.  At this point and in the future, relying on that to capture the market share may be too late, because the next generation of EEs is likely to know a range of several EDA tools and not just the one they used at school.

tooki:

--- Quote from: olkipukki on August 27, 2021, 09:30:24 am ---
--- Quote from: floobydust on August 22, 2021, 07:03:45 pm ---
I've used both Photoshop and GIMP. GIMP is the best way to kill someone, the user interface is so consistently terrible (try draw a circle) that I laugh everytime I use it. But it works, no fees or subscription and not locked into Windows or the cloud. It's a tool and I don't mind lesser features for lesser bullshit.

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Its not too bad, you can still find alternatives

 https://affinity.serif.com/en-us/

I'm using these products a few years on both Win and Mac after give up on Adobe Creative Suite, paid once and still receiving updates (!!!), although don't mind pay for a next version upgrade

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Yep. I’ve been using the Affinity products for years now, since my personal needs do not come close to requiring Adobe. They work well for everything I need to do.

For non-professional use there are tons of options. (My original claim was against people claiming that the OSS packages were complete replacements for the big commercial apps, and I maintain that they are not complete, because they lack features that are critical to professional users. Not every pro user needs every one of those pro features, but without all of them, another tool is not a complete replacement.)




--- Quote from: dunkemhigh on August 27, 2021, 11:53:12 am ---Are we not slightly confusing things here? Apart from no longer talking Altium or Autodesk, I mean! ISTM there are two aspects to 'professional' wordsmithing: figuring out what you want to say and making it look how you want (hopefully nice). The tools for each need distinct and different features, so you might well have one tool for writing the stuff and another for outputting the result. Someone arguing that X is fantastic (for collating material and organising it) maybe won't agree when someone else insists Y is far, far superior for (layout and stuff).

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This!!! Absolutely correct, and something I touched on earlier. That’s why I say that Word is a great writing tool. I never said it’s a great layout tool. I feel that a lot of people who hate Word are trying to use it for desktop publishing, which isn’t what its focus is.

Heck, in my daily home/school use, I use Word for writing, but usually Apple Pages for precise layouts. (I can’t justify spending $$$ for Adobe, though it would give me more control.)

tooki:

--- Quote from: nctnico on August 27, 2021, 10:59:16 pm ---
--- Quote from: Nominal Animal on August 27, 2021, 10:24:53 pm ---Use true UX professionals, observing actual professionals using various EDA tools, to make the user interface efficient.  Forums like EEVBlog are a good source for ideas to test.  The UX is what makes a package stand out, since any other proprietary EDA vendor can create their own as an upgrade from the free package;

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That won't work because for the occasional PCB layouter an intuitive UI will be the most productive where such a UI will only get in the way of someone doing PCB design all day.

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I think intuitiveness and productiveness are orthogonal. Bearing in mind that I used to work as a UX designer, I think it is possible to design interfaces that have pro-level productivity but are intuitive to new or infrequent users. First of all, intuitive ≠ simplistic. Pro apps have inherent complexity and that can’t be magically eliminated. But neither should pro apps have to tolerate obtuse interfaces (which is often very much implicitly claimed when people argue in support of bad pro interfaces).

To me, a great example of an intuitive pro interface was the old Final Cut Pro. (The ones before the newly developed Final Cut Pro X series, which I have no experience with. I’m not saying that X is harder to use, I simply do not know.) FCP’s interface was so well designed that new users could sit down and quickly become productive, but also had true pro functionality rivaling incumbent systems (like Avid) that had a much steeper learning curve. It had pro-level keyboard shortcuts, so that full-time users could be extremely productive with it. But unlike the harder apps, you didn’t have to memorize them right away in order to accomplish even basic tasks.

Another is Adobe InDesign: within a few years of release, it dethroned the incumbent leading desktop publishing program (Quark Xpress) with the one-two punch of being a better product (having a much better user interface and much better support for then-“modern” features and technologies like alpha transparency, advsnced typography, Unicode, etc.) and for treating its customers far better than Quark did. (Oh, the irony…) InDesign was also easier to use than Adobe’s own existing DTP program, PageMaker.


Anyhow, what I’m definitely not saying is that an intuitive interface is a dumbed-down one. I’m also not saying that a pro app should cater to people with no subject knowledge. A pro app also has every right to expect its users to understand established industry jargon. (In contrast, a consumer app might use a more “everyday” description for the same thing, like how a desktop publishing program will say “leading” while a word processor will say “line spacing”.)


The difficulty in creating great application interfaces is that it takes a ton of effort: from in-depth user observation and testing (as others have already said), to investing lots of time in designing and coding a UI (since good interfaces use code to figure many things out on their own, so the user doesn’t have to tell it redundant information, while still offering a way to change it if need be), but also because a truly good interface dictates some of the internal architecture of the program. Many bad UIs are the result of being a GUI bolted onto an application engine that wasn’t designed for that GUI. This remains a huge issue with legacy systems that were originally designed for batch processing or text-mode terminals. The architecture of the app engine for an interactive graphical interface will be fundamentally different from those. And even within natively GUI apps, the internal architecture depends a lot on the interface semantics.

Often times, the resources to make a truly great GUI app simply aren’t there. Or you don’t want to take the risk entailed by a complete re-engineering of an existing program. (A very valid argument in many cases; that’s why software in industries like banking, insurance, and aerospace, for instance, tends to change things very conservatively and slowly.) And existing GUI programs don’t want to change so much as to alienate existing users, even if the new UI is objectively (as proven empirically in user testing) easier and faster to use for both new and experienced users! (As Microsoft learned with Office 2007.) So you end up with an interface that’s good enough, but eludes excellence.

ajb:

--- Quote from: nctnico on August 26, 2021, 08:09:30 am ---
--- Quote from: m98 on August 26, 2021, 01:00:30 am ---
--- Quote from: ajb on June 07, 2021, 08:46:45 pm ---Heh, as a long time AutoCAD user for a couple years I was hoping AutoDesk would come out with an Altium competitor.  AutoCAD still has one of the best ways of taking a sophisticated set of tools and making them incredibly fast and reliable to use IMO, and I would have loved to see a real EDA tool built around a similar UI philosophy.  Those hopes were dashed when they bought Eagle, and I don't blame them for trying to buy Altium.  It would probably fit nicely into their lineup to have the Fusion 360 w/Eagle tier and then the Inventor/Altium Designer tier.

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This. Although I've never used Eagle and have no desire to change after trying it out several times, I usually like Autodesk software. An EDA-software with AutoCAD UX would be something I'd really like to see eventually.

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You mean one where you can also type commands?

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I happen to have been doing a bit of AutoCAD work these last few days which reminded me that I meant to respond to this.

AutoCAD isn't as good as it is just because it has a command line.  For one thing, it has a *REALLY GOOD* command line.  All of the most common commands are aliased to short mnemonics, it has autocomplete, it does a surprisingly good job of correctly interpreting mistyped commands, and for a while now they've put the autocomplete and command action/option prompts right at the cursor so you almost never have to look at the actual command line.  All of this works especially well because instead of having a ton of specialized commands, most commands have very sensible default behaviors but easily accessible variations/options.  Want to draw a circle? Type "C", then pick your center point and radius point.  Or "C", pick the center point, then "D" and enter the diameter.  Or "C", then "2" for two-point (diametric) mode.  Or "C" then "3" for three-point mode.  Or "C" then "T" for tangent/tangent/radius mode. Don't remember what the options for a command are? Just look at the command line window, or the prompt that appears at the cursor and hit the down arrow to see the list.  This is an incredibly fast way to access a ton of functionality without having to remember a whole lot of arbitrary key combination shortcuts.  (For the record, I think Altium's hierarchical single-key method is pretty good too, but AutoCAD's method absolutely gets you more functionality for your effort.  Altium also has annoying inconsistencies or...antiparallelisms? in the shortcuts for core commands between sch and pcb.  Like, placing text is P,T in sch but P,S in pcb, and making an electrical connection is P,W in sch but P,T in pcb.  Those commands are logically related and, IMO, ought to have the same shortcuts, or at least have shortcuts that don't collide with each other.)  For bonus points, any UI action in AutoCAD, including clicking on graphical buttons, shows up in the command line, so it's super easy to learn the commands for something by clicking around in the UI. Altium has some of that, but not nearly as much.

Speaking of speed, AutoCAD is fast.  It's really, REALLY fast, at least when run on decent hardware.  Granted, 2D line drawings aren't generally that computationally heavy, and it CAN take a second to think on some of the more computationally complicated commands, but the user interface itself is almost always super responsive.  Altium will occasionally miss the second key in one of the shortcuts, I have NEVER had that problem using the command line in AutoCAD.  You would have a really difficult time trying to go faster than it can keep up with except in a few scenarios.

It has an INCREDIBLY good snap/tracking system.  It's lightyears better than anything else I've ever seen.  It doesn't just track from whatever snap points are nearby--if you want to track from a snap point, you hover the cursor over it for a second to TELL it you want to track from that point.  You can choose which types of snap points to allow, which angles they track, and whether those angles are absolute or relative to the last segment.  You can change all of those settings right in the middle of a command with no ill effect.  You can also set temporary track points mid-command, so if you want to track from the point where the extensions of two lines would intersect, you just type "TT", hover over the two endpoints to activate their tracking, track to the intersection, click there, and then you can resume your command with the ability to track off of where you just clicked.  I would pay a significant amount of money just to have this one featureset in Altium instead of the absolute fucking garbage that is its snap/alignment system.  I cannot tell you how much I love AutoCAD's snap/tracking, nor how much I hate Altium's shitty half-baked attempt at it.

It has a solid and fast selection/disambiguation method.  Click to select, shift+click to unselect, drag right to select enclosed/left to select touching (how recently did Altium add that last one?), escape to unselect all.  Altium can sort of be configured to replicate that, but it just doesn't work as well because of other issues with selection.  It's often difficult to tell what's going to get selected when you click on something, and trying to deselect one thing often ends up selecting something else.  In AutoCAD, objects always highlight when you hover the cursor over them.  If the object you want isn't the one that highlights, Shift+Space will cycle through the objects available to click on there, so just tap that until the one you want is highlighted and click.  There's no waiting for an object disambiguation window to pop up (which it doesn't always do when it should anyway).

This is a really fundamental thing and I honestly can't believe that it's worth mentioning, but Altium is actually bad at this: In AutoCAD, things go where I want them to.  I have to constantly fight stupid little positioning errors in Altium, partly because of shitty snap/tracking, partly because of UI lag that means it doesn't register a click until after I've moved the cursor, but also just....sometimes shit doesn't end up where I clicked.  Interactive routing is its own horrible beast in this respect.  A lot of these errors are small enough or on sufficiently insensitive geometry that it doesn't REALLY matter, but it's absolutely indicative of fundamental problems not just with the way they've approached the UI, but with the actual math behind the commands.  I have seen enough weird tiny little offsets in coordinates show up in layouts that I'm convinced the application has deep and widespread problems with rounding at every level of the CAD stack.  That is an ABSURD problem for a CAD program to have*.

There's also just a ton of needless friction in the Altium UI.  Just today I was fixing my display modes (because I had to reload my saved preferences because one specific keyboard shortcut just stopped working and that's the only way I could find to fix it), and the transparency matrix requires you to click on a cell in the grid, and then click into the box at the bottom to change its value.  There's no multi select, so you have to do that on every. single. cell. you want to change.  Who the fuck made that UI decision?  Why can't I change the value in the cell itself?  Why can't I change multiple values at once?  This is hardly an isolated issue, there are needless impediments to being productive all throughout the application.

I could really go on and on about this, but the last think I'll say about the comparison:  Altium has a ton of bugs.  AutoCAD doesn't.  AutoCAD is only three years older than Altium (counting Protel), and while I expect it has a much larger user base, it's been a mature, solid program for a LONG time.  Altium has a number of bugs that are still active in bugcrunch because they're still in the application, for over a decade.  Now I don't spend as much time in Altium as a lot of people here do, but I've put a fair number of hours into it.  I still run into situations where something doesn't work the way I expect, so then I have to play the am-I-being-dumb-or-is-this-a-bug game and most of the time it's a fucking bug.  Then I get to decide if I want to take the time to see if it's already in bugcrunch, and if not, spend more time documenting it to add it, and in the process weighing whether THIS bug is going to get enough support from other users, attract the interest of one of the devs, align with the correct phase of the moon, or whatever other factors affect the Ouija board that drives Altium's development planning.  It's a deeply frustrating and largely futile time sink, but I usually report bugs because I want Altium to be better.  I want it to keep getting better to the point where I feel like it's worth spending any money at all on the annual subscription, let along the two fucking thousand dollars they want for....what?  Interactive routing has gotten worse in recent versions! That's like THE THING that Altium is for!  How does that happen?!  Now granted, Altium is certainly has a larger and more complex data model to deal with, and that's hard, I get that.  But the sum total of my experience with it is that Altium, the company, is not really serious about making a good tool.  Dave mentioned (in this thread maybe?) that we'd "be surprised" how little effort they're putting into PCB, but at this point I see no evidence that they're putting ANY effort into it.  It's not good enough for them to be complacent, they haven't finished the job yet, and parts that they have finished, they've managed to fuck up again.

Phew, that was a long rant.  I just finished my AutoCAD project today so I can't wait to start my next project that'll be a few solid days in Altium lol.

* Not quite as absurd as in Haas CNC machines, where I have personally had the control tell me that a memory value it displays as "0.000000" (six decimal places) is not equal to "0". As if writing G-code macros didn't suck enough to begin with.

nigelwright7557:
Given the number of free packages around now and the number of vendors too I dont think PCBCAD software is the thing to be in any more.

I used to sell it myself on ebay for about £30.
Then some one came along selling it for £4 and blew me out of the water.
Then next thing people are all using kicad so that was the end of it.

So moved on to hardware with software systems where it wont be given away.
Let the CAD vendors fight over what few customers there are left.
Best out of it.

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