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The state of PCB CAD user interfaces

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shadewind:
I've tried a few different PCB packages (EAGLE, Altium, Cadence etc.) and something which really stands out about Altium is that it seems to be the only application with user interface that is not horrible. I used EAGLE for a bit but for some reason, it feels extremely clunky and you seems to need commands for almost everything you want to do. In Altium, if I want to do move something, I just click and drag it, exactly how you would think it's done. And this is something that's consistent when comparing the basics of the user experience. Altium feels like a modern program which has taken advantage of the advances in the science of user interface design over the last two decades. The other tools seem to be stuck somewhere in the early 90s.

Why is this?

mikeselectricstuff:
The problem is that many PCB packages started off life in the days of MS-DOS before there were the established UI conventions of Windows, and where memory, CPU power and disk space were expensive. Most supppliers had to invent their own UI, and often design it around the limitations of the system to get acceptable performance. (I gather much of ORCAD MS-DOS was done in assembler - it was certaonly very fast in comparison to other tools of its time)
Once the Windows UI and more power came along, the CAD suppliers didn't want to upset their existing users and incur large development costs to change thinsg radically, so they kept the UI similar whilst adding Windows functionality.
Some packages also have baggage from the days when PCs weren't up to the task, and CAD was done on an assortment of very expensive workstations under different operating envirionments.

There are a few other reasons some tools are peculiar, in particular CAM type tools tend to be oriented towards the devices they will eventually output to, so for example one convention is that instead of selectin an object and doing something to it, you first select a tool, then apply that tool to one or more objects.

Many years ago I evaluated several PCB tools, and went with Accel (which became P-Cad before Altium abandoned it in 2006) primarily because it was very obviously designed from scratch as a Windows application with standard UI conventions, and had no UI baggage from earlier tools. It's a tool you can pick up easily and be using productively in a day or so.

Bored@Work:
Many PCB packages show their roots. And that is CAD packages from the 70th. What was typical for 1970th packages was that they heavily tried to model the real world. I.e. select tool, apply tool. Select next tool, apply that tool. Ad infinitum. While over the years it has turned out that people are more comfortable with the object-oriented way. I.e. select item ("object") to work on, apply the various functions you want to apply to the item. Select next item, apply functions to item. Which is, by the way, not a Windows invention.

However, many PCB software manufacturers either remain stuck in the past or copy the past. Maybe for fear of losing traditional customers, and "we always did it this way". It is also that many of the PCB software companies don't see the need to hire skilled HMI designers and listen to them. Instead the engineers, who typically have no fucking clue about HMI, don't care or have an obscure fetish ("I like it when the ESC key starts printing and what is good enough for me is good enough for everyone"), create the GUI and command line without design.

shadewind:

--- Quote from: BoredAtWork on November 06, 2011, 03:04:34 pm ---Many PCB packages show their roots. And that is CAD packages from the 70th. What was typical for 1970th packages was that they heavily tried to model the real world. I.e. select tool, apply tool. Select next tool, apply that tool. Ad infinitum. While over the years it has turned out that people are more comfortable with the object-oriented way. I.e. select item ("object") to work on, apply the various functions you want to apply to the item.

--- End quote ---
I've never thought about it that way, very interesting. When thinking about it, the tool paradigm is only natural because that is the way it has to work in reality. In software, no such limitations exist which makes it a bit silly. Mentally, you usually focus on parts of the board or components and then work on those parts doing different things. You don't first to all moving, then all routing etc.

EEVblog:
Altium (then Protel) decided to start fresh with their Windows implementation compared to their DOS Autotrax program in terms of user interface design. It was (and is still) written in Delphi if that helps explain anything.
In recent times they have had extra input from "industry" guys like me, and a good bunch of beta test users, but ultimately they have a few key developers there who seem to have a generally good "knack" when it comes to CAD user interface design.
Although not all aspects of the user interface design are what I'd consider obvious or user friendly.

Dave.

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