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 What Would Joe Do?
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

Strange bedfellows: Synopsys & Software Freedom Conservancy

September 9th, 2014 by Peggy Aycinena

Open source EDA software has been of interest to many, albeit not all, for a number of years. The appeal is intuitive: price point, ability to modify code, ability to weigh in on the design and usability, and so on. The drawbacks are also intuitive: unstable code, insufficient and/or eccentric documentation, ebb and flow of volunteer developers, lack of long-term support for algorithms and code, inability to interact with customers at a detailed enough level to provide software that truly solves problems and supports design.

There are two other drawbacks as well. Open source software is difficult to monetize around and it’s the antithesis of all things proprietary. The EDA industry, however, is profoundly proprietary. End of story?

Surprisingly, no. If you google “Synopsys Open Source”, you’ll get a whole page of links with this intro: “The following open source software are included in one or more Synopsys FPGA software products. Each is a link to information and source code for the respective package. In addition, when required by the open source license agreement, source code or information on acquiring source code is also included with the software product.”

The links include zlib, Rlwrap, Tcl/Tk, Wnlib, Bzip2, Sparse, STL Port, Gtkwave, Swig, Wxwidgets, and Bwidgets. Clicking on zlib yields this perky descriptor: “Massively Spiffy Yet Delicately Unobtrusive Compression Library (Also Free, Not to Mention Unencumbered by Patents).”

Click on the Swig link and you’ll see it’s a “software development tool that connects programs written in C and C++ with a variety of high-level programming languages.”

You’ll also learn that the SWIG developer community is affiliated with the Software Freedom Conservancy. Per their website, the Software Freedom Conservancy is a “not-for-profit organization that helps promote, improve, develop, and defend Free, Libre, and Open Source Software (FLOSS) projects. Conservancy provides a non-profit home and infrastructure for FLOSS projects.”

In other words, you can reach the Software Freedom Conservancy by way of Synopsys, one of the most aggressively proprietary companies in high-tech. Is there an irony here?

No, because Synopsys is not secretly embracing Open Source. What they’re doing is acknowledging the pitiful lack of revenue opportunities around a particular class of tools.

Companies like Xilinx and Altera have made it impossible for ‘traditional’ EDA companies to make any real money selling tools for FPGA design. Yet Synopsys needs to have a presence in all sectors of design, so they have to support FGPA developers – even if it draws them down the ironic rabbit hole of supporting communities that affiliate with the Software Freedom Conservancy.

Late last month, Synopsys posted financial results for the third quarter of 2014. Through years of careful, methodical growth, the company has at last reached a spectacular milestone. They’re now members of the $2 Billion Club. Pretty amazing.

Of course, those numbers are not built on Synopsys’ position in the FPGA tools market. They’re built on a proprietary portfolio of ASIC tools, an even more proprietary portfolio of IP, and a corporate philosophy that’s as far away from Open Source as the ethos of Linus Torvalds is from that of Steve Jobs.

Very strange bedfellows indeed.


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