KiCad revisited

This refers to KiCad 2014-03-19 build 4756 on Xubuntu 14.04

It’s been quite a while since I last had a go at using KiCad as a complete PCB design package. Recently, for a few reasons, I’ve wanted to go beyond the usual Eagle free constraints and so this was a good opportunity to see if KiCad had matured from previous incarnations. So, as you’d hope on a Debian (or Windows, or OS-X) system a simple apt-get kicad would suffice. Well, it did, for a while. I went through the Getting Started tutorial for the schematic and saved the netlist etc. Problems started at cvPCB where none of the package modules seemed to be installed and they weren’t anywhere on the system. There appeared to be a link to a Bazaar repository to download the original .mod files, but that’s been taken down. After a lot of searching around, it turns out you have to do a complete build from scratch to get KiCad up and running into a usable form after getting it from the Bazaar repository. For Ubuntu users, you can try this (I’ve only tested this on Xubuntu 14.04, but it should work for others).

sudo apt-get install bzr
sudo apt-add-repository ppa:js-reynaud/ppa-kicad
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install kicad
cd kicad
./ --install-or-update

In order, this will 1) get the source management software bzr, 2) add the location of the KiCad files, 3/4) update your local version info and get the kicad sources (this is a 550 MB download), and 5/6) build and install KiCad. Compiling will take quite a while, so get a cup of tea while it does so. This is dependent on your computer spec, but mine took around 25 mins (2.6 GHz Core2Duo, 4GB RAM). Be aware you will have to enter your su password during the build. This will leave a big folder at the end called kicad_sources, which you may safely delete.

You should now have a working copy of KiCad installed on your computer ready to go! With this version, there are some inconsistencies with the Getting Started guide, but you can work around them reasonably easily. Honestly though, this is not what KiCad should be doing to increase its user share. In fact, while searching for solutions to installation problems, changing to other software was a common theme. Last time I tried it, it was so close to being a perfect FOSS replacement for Eagle, and I was really hopeful a couple of years later. However, it’s a major headache for people who just want it to work out the box rather than typing in obscure and unknown terminal commands and watching pages of scrolling text for half an hour. The packaged version doesn’t have to be the latest and greatest, but it does have to just work. There’s also no point in updating documentation until there’s at least a fixed version it refers to.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to using it now there’s a working version installed. So far, it’s looking hopeful and full credit to the KiCad developers for making such a good piece of software. I hope they can sort out their packaging so all this work doesn’t go to waste with a withering user base. Would welcome anyone’s own experience and thoughts with KiCad below.