Using Linux at Lectra-Systèmes

Linux as used in CAD/CAM design by Lectra Systemes, France.

Lectra Systèmes is one of two world leaders in the design and creation of the CAM solution, CAD/CAM and cutting machines, mainly for the footwear and apparel industry. The headquarters of this company are in Cestas, in the suburbs of Bordeaux, France. Five hundred people work here, 150 of whom are in the Research and Development department.

I am in charge of systems development in the R&D Department. The system group does all developments that concern base systems (e.g.,installation procedures, graphic libraries, tools).

Since the 1980s, Lectra has developed its own computers based on Motorola 680x0 processors. The main part of the installed systems (approximately 3000 customers, 80% abroad) uses a mono-task, proprietary operating system, written in 680x0 called MILOS for “Micro Lectra Operating System”.

Why Use Unix?

A few years ago, Lectra started to become interested in database systems requiring the use of a more powerful system that would be multi-task and multi-user. After some teething problems with the Unix-like, the choice turned to implementing Unix System V3.2 for 680x0 architecture. The small team of which I am a member has managed to port the UniSoft sources as well as the X Window System graphic environment.

Lectra then decided to develop a new line of computers based on 68040 processors, much more powerful than the 68030. The operating system used was the Unix USL SVR4.0 version, and another port was made.

Although this task proved to be very interesting, we were persuaded that this computer (named OpenCad) would be the last one designed from scratch by the R&D teams. A few people continued to show interest, but continuing to support a series of computers that were too small to be competitive made it difficult to remain in a hardware market that is a race against power and low prices.

Lectra's Cultural Revolution

Despite OpenCad's commercial success with our customers, Lectra's management quite rightly decided to launch the development of a completely new range of products utilizing mainly Intel 486 and Pentium architecture, still with a Unix environment and X Window System. The database applications which use many resources would, on the other hand, be targeted to SUN SPARC architecture.

After some comparative tests between the different versions of Unix on the PC, it was decided to use Linux, which proved to be sturdy, have high performance, and the right price. Also, having the sources of the system available proved to be advantageous, as we use many special peripherals for which the adaptation would be much more difficult on a Unix machine.

Developments under Linux

Having chosen the system, we now needed to adapt Linux to an industrial solution. It is quite clear that Unix (and, therefore, Linux) is slightly more difficult for a final operator to use. This adaptation must be done in two stages:

  • at the installation procedure of the final product, as it is not possible to expect a technician (a customer) to know how to install Slackware

  • at the user interface, so that the administration of the station base (network, users, access rights) and the specific functionalities of Lectra are easily accessible by someone who is not necessarily a computer scientist

Installation Procedure

The Lectra distribution uses the same principles as other distributions—two boot floppies and a CD-ROM. The installation screens use dialog-0.3, which has proved to be extremely simple and powerful when it comes to creating a series of installation screens. The main Lectra Linux installation window can be seen in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Lectra Linux Installation Main Menu

The main advantage when choosing Linux in this domain is that it has the possibility of creating an extremely precise installation procedure (i.e., only what is required is installed), and it is therefore very quick. The current Lectra Desktop version takes less than 10 minutes to install on a Pentium 120. In comparison, the same desktop version on a Solaris system takes nearly an hour, as it is necessary to install the Solaris CD first, followed by Solaris patches, and then the Lectra Desktop.

The different packages are managed as ISO-9660 files (with Rock Ridge extensions) from a Linux structure using the mkisofs program. The ISO images are then written on the master CD using a PC under Microsoft Windows.