Last month, we ran a user survey to better understand who FreeCAD users are: how they use FreeCAD, what they do at work, what major gripes with the software they have, and more. Over the course of one week, 650 people answered our questions and provided extended insights. They learned about the survey and came to it from more than ten different websites and social media platforms.
FOSS projects often struggle to build and follow a coherent development roadmap that lets contributors add new features while also improving code quality, removing deprecated features, and generally improving the application. After all, it’s more fun to work on new features than it is to write unit tests, refactor code, and fix bugs.
We’ve completed the first year as employees and contractors paid to hack on FreeCAD and build services around it. We do have a few things to brag about. We also had some setbacks and challenges. Since we started Ondsel with a goal to be as honest and transparent as possible, let’s talk about things the team learned this year while figuring things out.
FreeCAD puts swiss army knives to shame with its plethora of tools and workflows shipped by default: mechanical design and FEA tools, architecture and BIM tools, 2D drafting tools, CAM tools etc. It’s a very impressive achievement for a project that is operated entirely by volunteers in their spare time. But it’s also a bit of a curse.
“I like to have options. I don’t like the idea of entire industries being beholden unto the whims of big software developers.” — Taste_of_Based on r/PLC
When we talk to customers, the question of import/export comes up repeatedly. Working with DWG files is necessary for collaborating with upstream or downstream partner organizations, but these proprietary formats make things extremely difficult if anyone in the chain is not using an official Autodesk tool.
Look, there are good reasons why the price of a software product could go up: rising R&D and maintenance costs, market saturation, rising inflation rate etc. But Autodesk’s latest announcement of bumping the Fusion 360 price yet again makes people—especially small businesses—cringe, and it’s easy to see why. It’s about what you do and how you communicate that to users:
We have just published our own build of FreeCAD with built-in Ondsel Solver and the new integrated assembly workbench. Now everyone can take an early look at the assembly workflow coming in FreeCAD v1.0.
Free and Open-Source Software has a reputation for poor usability and user experience (UX). FreeCAD is no exception. Some of the most common complaints raised by users are about the steep learning curve, inconsistent workflow, and ugly, confusing user-interface (UI). There are dozens of threads on the forum going back years where someone has come forward with a vision to ‘fix’ the usability problem. These efforts always devolve into bike-shedding, and nitpicking. Nothing changes.
The basics of an integrated assembly workbench in FreeCAD are now functional and will be ready for wider testing once another pull request is merged. This means you can play with it now in the development version of FreeCAD and when version 1.0 is out, you will be able to create or link parts, create joints between them, and solve the assembly — in just a few clicks, out of the box, without installing any add-ons.
We’ve already introduced some improvements to sketching with constraints before, when Pierre-Louis Boyer implemented contextual constraints. But there are more usability gaps there, and we are targeting them one by one. There’s another major change currently undergoing code review: on-viewport tool widgets to create fully constrained sketches and tool settings to set various properties and choose drafting behavior.