Just as the paperless office, predicted to quickly
become a reality when personal computers were beginning to dominate the workplace and home in the 1980s, has yet to occur,
neither has desktop software for high-end applications totally replaced online equivalents. Microsoft has made good progress
in the last few years in moving part of their Office suite online, but you still need a local copy of Visio, Project, and even
their Visual Studio software development tools if you want to use them. Graphics and video editing software cannot be used
efficiently online. The problem is mostly due to time latency between user input and software display response. Speed on
the host server end is addressable with pumped up computing power and extra Internet connections, but a bottleneck still
exists at the Internet-based user-host interface.
One venue that
has made a lot of progress in the last decade and a half has been the online schematic capture, simulation, and printed
circuit board (PCB) layout realm. PCB manufacturing companies who want to provide their customers with a convenient, easy-to-use,
highly functional, and very importantly, Free, platform for creating, testing, and ordering ready-to-use substrates, have
led the way.
I remember using some of the first online interfaces in the early 2000s and being frustrated by the clunky interface
and limited electronic component library of parts. Being an old guy now, I can also claim to have used some of the first
PC-based circuit layout and simulation software in the 1980s - with the same frustrations. My first version of Spectrum
Software's Micro-Cap analog simulator came on a
5¼" floppy disk and ran on a PC with an I80286 processor. At the time, mainframe computers with dumb terminals were
the only "real" systems for doing that work. Prior to then, and coincident with the early software, I and others did PCB
layout (nothing more sophisticated than 2-sided) on Mylar sheets and Rubylith tape. Most of our prototype board substrates, designed for wire bonding with bare die and surface
mount passive components, were polyimide. We laid down thin strips of Kapton tape across traces when soldering wires to
the board to prevent it from wicking into the gold wire bonding region.
An e-mail I received today from
EasyEDA prompted me to take a look at what the latest in online EDA tools
has to offer since it has been a while since I explored the field. To say their EDA tools are impressive is an understatement.
Not only is the user interface very responsive, but the overall capabilities for circuit design, simulation, PCB layout,
and parts list generation are very intuitive to use. Rather than bore you with my version of EasyEDA's features, a well-done
introductory video is embedded that will take you through the highlights. For some reason, I really got a kick out of the
"A few hours later" frame that was displayed to bridge the time between beginning the layout process and completing it
(rather than showing the entire thing).
EasyEDA, Web-Based EDA Tool
As with most of the online simulation and layout tools, unless you are willing to pay some nominal amount for a private
account, everything you create is placed in the publicly accessible space where anyone can see and use it. EasyEDA does
give you 2 private project spaces, but that is no guarantee your work will not be compromised since a lot - if not most
- of the quick-turn PCB houses are located offshore where your country's privacy laws are not enforceable.
A Google search for online
PCB layout will turn up dozens of results. EasyEDA, BTW, comes up
at the top of the list of non-advertisements (at least at this moment in time).
Disclaimer: This article does not imply recommended use of EasyEDA for
any reason whatsoever. It is simply a means of letting you know of an option that you can explore for yourself to determine
for whether it is a good fit for your needs.
The inventions and products featured on these pages were chosen either for their uniqueness in the RF engineering realm, or are simply awesome
(or ridiculous) enough to warrant an appearance.