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KiCad Usability



On the CERN roadmap there is as an item saying "Study ergonomics of various
commercial/proprietary PCB applications". In order to contribute to this, I
have put on Dropbox some screenshots of the making of an overly simple
circuit in Altium, DipTrace, Eagle, Fritzing, KiCad and some random images
of the future Circuit Maker from Altium. These screenshots can serve as a
basis for future usability improvements:

The two main differences I have noticed in KiCad were the start screen and
the workflow from schematic to PCB. Other differences included small
windows by default, a big number of confirmation dialogs and some unusual
naming (for example "Plot" to export Gerbers).

A. Start screen
1. Altium, Circuit Maker and Fritzing have a unified window where you can
do File > New > Schematic.
2. DipTrace has buttons to open the Schematic Capture, PCB Layout,
Component Editor and Pattern (= Footprint) Editor.
3. Eagle has a project manager where you can do File > New > Project, New >
Schematic and New > Board.
4. KiCad is a mix between DipTrace and Eagle. It has 8 unlabeled icons to
open the different programs and the ability to do File > New > Blank
Project but no ability to create a schematic or PCB.

B. Schematic to PCB
1. Altium needs the .SchDoc and .PcbDoc to be in a .PrjPcb. You can then do
Design > Update PCB Document and then Execute Changes which switches to the
PCB tab (same window) with your parts to the right of the board outline.
2. DipTrace has a menu File > Convert to PCB which opens the PCB Layout
program with your parts in the center of the screen (no board outline by
3. Eagle has a menu File > Switch to board which opens the Board window
with your parts to the left of the board outline.
4. Fritzing has a PCB tab (same window) automatically updated with your
parts on the top left of the board outline.
5. In KiCad, you need to open Tools > Generate Netlist File which opens
Cvpcb to select the footprints of your components. Then you click File >
Save and close the window. Back to the schematic, you need to open Tools >
Layout Printed Circuit Board. In the PCB, you click Tools > Netlist, then
Read Current Netlist and close the dialog. By default, your parts are
stacked on top of each other in the center of the screen (no board outline).

To improve the start screen, I have attached two easy suggestions. Let me
know what you think of them, if someone wants to implement them or if I
should create a branch myself.

For further discussions, should I continue here or create Launchpad bugs or
blueprints? And is there a usability team I can join (especially for this
"wxPython based project manager")?

Have a nice weekend!

David Perrenoud

Attachment: start_screen_after.png
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Attachment: start_screen_before.png
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Attachment: start_screen_menu.png
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