To actually answer the question:
A bunch of years ago, I did a side project for a small company (friends, too, but don’t worry, it was paid, and it continues to pay) which required doing a board layout. I had considered handing it off to my then-employer’s layout person (who also did side gigs) but I figured, what the heck, I can do this. So I looked at various offerings at the time, which were Accel, Orcad, PADS, Ultiboard and EAGLE. We used Accel at the day job, so it was my first choice, and the learning curve would’ve been steep*, but the cost was more than I could afford. The cost for Orcad and PADS were on the same order as Accel.
That left Ultiboard and EAGLE. Trying the latter was easy, because they offered the free version for small designs. And I tried it, and I hated the user interface and I hated the library system. (That the free version was too limited for the design I needed to do was not a consideration.) So I bought Ultiboard 2001 and its companion schematic capture Ulticap (instead of Multisim, which I didn’t need). And it was perfectly fine and I did a bunch of designs with it.
Fast forward a bit, and I’ve migrated most everything from Windows to the Mac. While my copy of Ultiboard ran fine in a Windows XP machine, it clearly was at a dead end (notably it won’t install on Windows 7 and later), even though National Instruments bought the program and was offering upgrades. So I started looking for something new, preferably a package that ran native on the Mac.
First, I considered an Altium license, as it runs well in a virtual machine. But the price is a barrier. So …
There were (still are) actually some Mac options. The Osmond PCB layout program uses the Capilano DesignWorks schematic capture looked interesting, but the pair had, and still does, to an extent, the look and feel of an OS 9 application, which led me to think about whether it was actually still supported.
gEDA was, and to an extent, remains a clusterfuck of unrelated bits and bobs bundled together with duct tape (not even gaffer tape). The M4 macros for libraries? Please, god, no. And it ran on certain flavors of Linux, and wouldn’t run on OS X (I shit you not, there was a dependency of a dependency whose maintainer hated Macs and endeavored to ensure that the package wouldn’t work on that platform), and I think the worst part of it was the common developer response to feature requests: “Why would you want that?” Seriously, that’s the response I got when I suggested putting the net names in the traces and pads. Now gEDA has been forked, but who cares.
EAGLE runs well enough on the Mac, but its user interface is still hateful and its library system is still a mess, and it is still missing features that Kicad has. The interface and the libraries aren’t going to change, so that was that.
At the time, Kicad was still kinda wonky, but it actually compiled on the Mac, and it worked well enough to create boards. And the development process was active and improvements were being made all the time. Now that I have a bunch of designs and a few years of experience with the program, I think you can’t really beat it for what it offers. Certainly, it’s worth paying EAGLE money for.
So that’s my story.
- “steep” learning curves mean that you learn the topic quickly, not that it is hard! Look at a chart with the X axis as time and the Y axis as knowledge. A steep slope means learning quickly.