I am a huge fan of low-cost or no-cost EDA tools. That being said, there are several areas in engineering where there is no alternative to a high-priced tool. I contend that the evolution of technology is being hindered by the lack of high-end tool access. The basis for that contention is that most innovation originates from small organizations with little or no money to pursue their visions. Anyone who has worked for a small, minimally-funded startup company knows that tools cost dollars, but the time to use them is free.
I understand that a company that invests in developing tools deserves to make money selling its product. Likewise, there needs to be a way for its staff to earn a living while developing great products. As it turns out, there are many companies that do just that and still distribute their EDA tools for free.
One great example is Linear Technology's LTSPICE, a free electronic simulation tool. Another example is PCB123 from Sunstone Circuits, a free PCB layout design tool. So how do these companies make money giving away their tools for free?
That's an easy question. They make money selling their next higher-level product, a hardware product, which is then included in the customer's hardware end product. Everyone in the product chain makes money selling hard solutions.