Protel Autotrax (A history)
The Dark force of dance
batzman at all-electric.com
Sat Apr 24 05:28:24 CEST 1999
I've been using protel since the year dot. I first used it at work and
then work sold me a copy. I then upgraded it several times though I don't
know why. Now I'm using the windows version but I can't afford to upgrade
to things like protel99. In fact I haven't upgraded since about, Ooo. 1994
In any case. it worked something like this.
In the dim dark days there was SmartWorks. Everyone used smart works for
PCBs. IN fact in late 1985, it was the whole reason for buying a PC.
Smarworks was of course a DOS program and it was almost like assembling
block graphix on a C64 or something. Except that eventually you got a PCB
print out. The drawback was that you couldn't do things like a DB25 because
it could not space the pins correctly. At work we use to have to leave
those components off the board and draw them in by hand directly on the
Velum sheet or use bishop graphix. Remember that?
Then came the first Protel product. Just called Protel as I recall. This
was leaps and bounds ahead and saw the sales of Smartworks fall to zero. It
quickly became the industry standard. Still is I'm told. Though god knows
why. Some time after that, Protel released a schematic product. It was the
first time anyone had linked the PCB and schematic capture through the use
of net-listing. (something I jut don't use) Auto-routing was something
entirely new and out there back then but I've never used auto-routing
because the first examples were universally dreadful. Especially when
laying out microprocessor designs. And that was where auto-routing was most
useful. The products became known as Protel AutoTraxs. Why? you may ask?
Because the original Autotrax file format was the same as AutoCAD. They
were in fact interchangeable at the time.
This was a smart move because all you had to do is change it to DXF (I
assume because I've never had to do this) and you could load up your
PCB/circuit into AutoCAD. Anything that couldn't yet be done in AutoTrax
could certainly be done in AutoCAD.
AutoTrax PCB and Schematic were sold as two separate programs but
eventually they became integrated. There was not standard for netlisting
and although later products like Orcad etc, had netlisting, it wasn't
compatible. Rather like Cakewalk integrates it's crappy audio program into
The last DOS version of the AutoTrax suite, which I have here somewhere,
was no DONGLE protected. When they moved to Protel AutoTrax for windoze,
you had to buy it almost new because it required a dongle. Which I have of
course. The Dongle provided an up-grade license pretty much all through the
90s except for Protell98/99 I'm led to believe.
Here's the catch. The old DOS version of AUTOTRAX was released as Freeware
but re-names EasyTrax. It's almost identical but not quite. Some things
have been disabled and other things work a little differently. It's almost
as if they had simply tidied it up for posterity and dumped it.
The autoTrax for windows suite will read Auto/easyTrax PCB files straight
up. It knows about that stuff. But! What it doesn't know how to do is read
the schematic libraries. As we have just found out. I haven't yet searched
for a conversion program but if memory serves there is one that comes with it.
The irony for me is that even after all this time of owning it, this week
has been the first time I've ever managed to use the schematic capture
program. Weird hah? And now that I'm actually using it, it ain't that bad
mah! I guess the reason for this is that in the past, the fastest machine I
ever tried to use it on was a 386 with 8 sMEG of memory. The first time I
tried it was on an 8088 based machine under DOS. You can imagine how slow
I always thought it was damn horrible. I could do better using my own, now
ancient DTP package. It was all I had at one time for doing all graphix.
And naturally I created schematic libraries for it. I got use to being able
to create my own symbols right there on the page. If I then used those
symbols more than once I'd libratize them for later use. Eventually
collecting a huge array of electronic symbols. Autotrax restricted me. Not
only because it was DOG slow but also because it forced me to (a) do things
properly and (B) restricted the used of custom symbols. It's own libraries
were very limited at the time and creating a whole new set was so time
consuming I would have spent all my time creating libraries instead of
getting on with the job.
But! This is now running on my current toaster. The slowest machine in my
main fleet. A P120 with 20 sMEG of RAM. When it virtual pages (Windows in
Windows jargon) it screams across. Waiting for virtual pages on CGA or a
Hurc card was painfull. So it ain't that bad to use. In fact I'm starting
to enjoy it. I've created the few libraries I needed and the libraries it
now contains are pretty extensive. Although I couldn't find a 5 pin DIN
My big problem now is trying to get the schematic into some kind of BIT
MAP. Perhaps I might need to do this with the PCB but I'll cross one bridge
at a time. There is now means to export this. When exporting to DXF, it
seems to not export the solid lines. I could convert from DXF but it's not
the exact thing. Don't ask why coz I don't know. There are no options it
I heard that what you have to do is print it to a postscript file and then
convert it back from that but I fail to get GhostScript to work as yet. I
have something called an Adobe distiller. It came with one of my adobe
packages. All this seems to do is create a PDF file from a post script
file. Unfortunately it seems to bomb at the PS stream from "Protel
AutoTrax Advanced Schematic".
So if there are any suggestions as to how to do this I would most
appreciate it. Thanks in advance.
Be absolutely Icebox.
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