- By Grant Gross -
When a company called PTC announced it was porting its Pro/Engineer computer-aided design package to Linux a couple of weeks ago, it was the end of a nearly four-year campaign to bring the mechanical engineer modeling tool to the Open Source operating system.
Sepehr Kiani, an engineer at Teradyne Connection Systems in New Hampshire, points out an online petition that has signatures dating back to October 1998, asking PTC to port the software package to Linux. Kiani expects an initial rush of Linux fans to switch to the new port, then a slow but steady conversion starting with small shops, consultants and Unix users.
Kiani, whose shop uses Pro/Engineer on Windows NT and 2000, says Teradyne will probably wait until more than the core packages are available for Linux, but he expects a healthy number of people to support the Linux port almost as a matter of conscience.
"In the end, it's a question of user freedom," says Kiani, who's experimented with Linux on his own since 1997 or '98. "There's a fundamental problem in an industry when there are no options available. I think there's some level of idealism out there that says there's a good reason for us to support this."
Kiani says he was disappointed when Microsoft stopped supporting the Alpha hardware architecture for NT in 1998, and his company is still stuck with a closet full of Alpha machines it has no use for. The Linux port of Pro/Engineer supports his belief that choices make for a healthy industry, although in this case the industry is software, not hardware.
PTC and Hewlett-Packard hailed the Linux port as big news for the CAD engineering community. HP has pledged support for Pro/Engineer and Linux on its 32-bit Intel architectures, and both companies say the move to Linux will give mechanical engineers a cost-effective alternative to expensive Unix-based hardware.
Dante Dell'Agnese, Pro/Engineer product manager at PTC, says the company's customers want the stability and power of a Linux/Unix platform on the cheaper Intel boxes. "They're always looking for alternatives, especially when you go overseas," he says. "A lot of our larger customers don't like some of the [licensing] moves Microsoft is making, so they're looking for alternatives as well."
Dell'Agnese sees demand for Linux performance as opposed to Windows from customers because many of them tax their hardware to the limit.
Dell'Agnese says he doesn't see a huge expansion of PTC's customer base with the Linux port, but he does expect several existing customers to eventually make the switch, including several customers in Europe. "Our customers have been asking for it for some time," he says. "Some of them were traditionally Unix houses, and their IT departments forced them to go to Windows because of the cost factor. Now they'll be able to go back to a Unix-based operating operating system and have all the power they used to have."
Kiani says he doesn't really blame PTC for taking as long as it has to port Pro/Engineer to Linux. The company also needed a hardware partner to support the port, and now it has HP.
Mike Balma, Linux business strategist for HP, notes that this is one of those Linux products that's been needed for the operating system to become accepted on the desktop. "People are saying, 'When's Linux going to hit the desktop?' " he says. "As with many things, it may hit the technical desktop first."