Linux design tools

Increasingly, Linux and open source software are finding paths into arenas traditionally dominated by specialist proprietary software. Two such areas are Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and flowchart design.

Drawing with QCad

QCad (www.qcad.org) is a two-dimensional (2D) CAD program for Linux that is freely available under the GNU General Public Licence.

QCad requires Qt 2.1 (C++ GUI builder for KDE) or later. There is, however, a statically linked package containing all the required libraries, which we have included on the cover CD-ROM. Installing QCad is as easy as extracting the tar setup file and executing the setup.sh script. We have also included an RPM package on the CD, but it is not statically linked so you will need to have all the requirements installed before it will work.

Once QCad is installed, starting it simply involves executing the following at a command prompt while in X Windows:

$ qcad

The QCad interface is simple and easy to learn. Every command is executed by clicking on the available icons, with commonly used tools including zoom, undo, print and save accessible via the toolbar. The names of the commands also appear when the mouse pointer is placed over the icon. The drawing tools are located on the left panel. Once selected, each tool expands into more specialised applications. A feature I found handy was the ability to right-click the mouse button to return to one level higher in the menu.

With no plans for extension into the 3D arena, QCad is a 2D drawing tool for Linux that is well suited to beginners. The files may be saved as drawing exchange format (dxf), which allows compatibility with other drawing applications such as AutoCAD and TurboCAD.

Flowcharting with Kivio

An exciting new program for Linux developed by theKompany.com is Kivio, a flowcharting application designed to fill the existing gap in the Linux technical/design software space.

The standard Kivio program consists of a flowcharting application, which is released under GPL, and a basic programmer's stencil set. Additional stencils are planned "for varying applications such as network elements. The source code for the stencil sets are currently closed source.

Kivio has been developed exclusively for KDE 2 and requires the KOffice libraries to compile. Other than this requirement, Kivio is very easy to install and RPM files are available for the major distributions.

Executing:

# rpm -Uvh kivio-0.9.1.i586.rpm

as root will install it. Once you have installed Kivio, the program is started by executing:

$ kiviopart

from a command prompt in X Windows.

Once it is installed, Kivio's graphical interface is very easy to work with. You can drag and drop stencils onto your workspace and then connect them with ease. You can assign a number of attributes to a stencil, including border width, fill colour and text inserts.

An impressive feature of Kivio is its support for python scripting and C++ plug-ins. This means that Kivio is not just a graphical tool but can also be used "to perform numerical computations, which are useful in technical productivity environments.

Some readers may be familiar with the popular Windows flowcharting program Visio. Unfortunately, due to the proprietary Visio file format, Kivio can not import or export Visio files.

Printing is not yet available, but it is being developed for future releases.

In short, QCad and Kivio are two exciting design programs available for Linux.

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