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Is “Free Software” Really Free?

Every so often it seems like we get a rash of “free trial” or “free software” offers in the EDA industry. Of course, in consumer goods where it makes a lot of sense, a free trial is one of the staple weapons in the marketing inventory. If you want someone to try a new or improved product that doesn’t require a big investment in time or effort to use, it’s a compelling way to generate interest. The question is, “Does it make sense for complex EDA software?”

Replacing a product that is a core part of a complex design flow must be handled differently in order to manage the costs and risks associated with change. Evaluating a sign-off tool is a complex undertaking requiring assessment of a range of key criteria, such as robustness and scalability, reliability, runtime performance, foundry rule deck support, compatibility with third party tools, price, and so on. A decision based on only one of these factors will probably be the wrong decision and could risk the company’s core objective of shipping product on time with competitive performance. Other potential penalties could include extended product development cycles, higher cost of quality, and ongoing support risk if the long term viability of the vendor being evaluated is in question.

 With this in mind, does a “free trial period” really provide much value? Considering the amount of time a team expends in developing and running an evaluation itself, along with the support cost of changing a tool, the purchase price of a 30 or 60 day license is immaterial. Besides, EDA vendors provide free temporary licenses for evaluation all the time without advertising them as free trials. To me, the issue is not providing free licenses for evaluation, it is understanding the evaluation criteria, and providing the technical support to ensure that a new user is truly taking advantage of the product’s capability.  In fact, I would caution buyers to be wary of free trial approaches because they are often fishing expeditions; your chances of getting solid vendor support for such a program is lower than if you set up a formal evaluation process. Falling prey to a quick trial because the software is free, but which ultimately proves to be a poor choice, is probably not career enhancing! As much as the EDA industry would like to think otherwise, our customers are in the business of delivering their products, they do not have the luxury to do multiple evaluations all the time.

What do customers really need to help them make the best decision for their business? They need evaluation licenses combined with vendor support to cover all aspects of a thorough evaluation process. Assuming the decision is to switch, they also need post-sales support for training, configuration and integration into their flow. All this needs to be provided with the same level of enthusiasm and the same vendor team that was with the customer during the evaluation.

A free “do it yourself” trial offer sounds good on the surface, but it can be a hollow promise if the other facets required to succeed are not also available. Bottom line, take the time to develop a well thought out evaluation process and, trust me, you will not only have a successful event, the evaluation software will be free too!

Let me know what you think about free EDA software trials and or formal evaluations. What worked and did not work for you? What do you really need from EDA vendors to help you make product choices? Lets chat!

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About Michael Buehler

Michael BuehlerMichael Buehler-Garcia has over 20 years of experience in the IC industry ranging from manufacturing engineering and product operations to all facets of marketing, along with different levels of management at companies such as Motorola, Cadence, Chartered Semiconductor and PDF Solutions. He came to Mentor through the acquisition of Ponte Solutions, a model-based DFM company, where he was V.P. of Marketing and Business Development. He is currently Mentor's Director of Marketing for Calibre Design Solutions. Michael has worked extensively with all elements in the semiconductor eco system, having experienced the industry from all angles. He has a B.S.M.E. from Arizona State University, and was one of the first six sigma black belts for Motorola's Government Electronics Group. Visit MBG's Observations on a Changing Design Solutions World

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