History of microwave
Updated for July 2010
We've added an entry on Handy COMPACT, the
original Microwave App!
to check out our main history page. If CAD history interests you,
visit our microwave CAD page, our Microwave
Hall of Fame, and our page on historical
microwave test equipment!
Jump down to your favorite software
company of yore:
Touchstone and Libra
Busters, Superstar, and Eagleware
Much of the material below is
a product of the combined experience of the Microwaves101 Professor
(an ex-EEsof guy) and the Unknown Editor (a recovering MMIC designer
with Tourettes Syndrome), with a ton of edits by the father of microwave
CAD himself, Les Besser, and
even a conversation or two with Randy Rhea, James Rautio and now
Ulrich Rohde (how's that for name dropping!) If anyone can contribute
to this history lesson, please send in your stuff, even if it's
just a correction! We'd like names and dates, and for really important
CAD visionaries, we'd like to put them into the Microwave
Hall of Fame!
This was Les Besser's precursor
to COMPACT. In his own words:
"I wrote the SPEEDY
on the General Electric Timeshare system while I worked at Fairchild's
Microwave Division in 1970. The main goal was to promote Fairchild's
new line of microwave devices, including the first commercially
available GaAs FETs. The program had two-port analysis only, but
it stored all the Fairchild transistor S-parameters. Users accessed
the program worldwide through local telephone calls
with terminals (i.e., teletype) and modems. First-generation
terminals operated at 110 baud (bits/s), but later the "high-speed"
Texas Instrument portable terminal had the blazing speed of 300
baud. Note that I am not using "K" in front of the bauds!
Even though by today's standards that sounds awfully slow, commercial
timesharing brought the design software to engineers through telephone
lines. A few companies, like Texas Instruments, had internal software
on their mainframe computers, but most of the microwave engineers
did not have such capability and they were happy to use timesharing.
SPEEDY is not an acronym,
we just wanted to advertise its speed, compared to the early day
time-domain simulators that operated at low frequencies.
The second-generation program,
COMPACT, had circuit-optimization and it was commercially introduced
through six different timeshare companies. Its transistor databank,
in addition to the Fairchild products, also included other manufacturers'
devices. In-house installations began in 1973, with Communication
Research Center (CRC) of Canada being the first one. See more
on COMPACT below."
According to Robert P. (Bob)
Coats, one of the first CAD tool for microwave circuits, CAIN-01,
was developed about 1971 for use by designers at Texas Instruments.
CAIN-01 was available on an IBM 360 computer and accessed using
punched cards. It was never marketed by the corporation. Here we
quote Bob's historical perspective on this achievement:
"CAIN-01 stands for
"Computer Aided Integrated Networks version 1". In July
1973 I published a paper in the July issue of the MTT transactions
of the IEEE. I used the software on the work described, and referenced
an article by its designers. The authors were T. W. Houston, L.
W. Dyer, and G. J. Policky. The paper was entitled "Computer-aided
design of Microwave Integrated Circuits" and it was published
in the August 1969 IEEE Wescon Convention Record. The software
was developed initially in support of the first phased array development
program at Texas Instruments (the MERA program). The software
was widely used by microwave circuit designers at TI for many
This information came from Albert,
For a while in the 80's
I had a program called "CADEC" that ran on a HP 9845
desktop. It was stored on a HP-200 tape cassette and did OK with
passive circuits. It relied mostly on ABCD parameters and Z/Y
matrix analysis (like in low frequency AC circuit analysis with
matrices). The cool part was it came in Rocky Mountain basic and
you could go in and change anything, add new circuit elements,
and mess around with display options. At the time Martin Marietta
was strongly opposed to PC's due to a very entrenched computer
department, and we would order HP computers as "instrument
controllers" so we could get some free computing power. I
may still have a manual around.
Albert, we'd like to get some
scans of that manual! - UE
For most of us, in the beginning,
there was COMPACT. The acronym stands for "Computer Optimization
of Microwave Passive and Active CircuiTs". Introduced in 1973,
it was the only commercially-available microwave circuit optimization
software product available during the disco years (in-house programs
at General Electric and Texas Instruments were capable of analysis
without optimization, see above). During the hippy epoch and for
all times before, microwave design was done using a Smith chart
and a pencil and even the simplest designs took many months to develop.
Les Besser was the originator of the COMPACT program, and appears
in our Microwave Hall of Fame for
laying the groundwork for microwave CAD industry. Les is a Hungarian-Canadian-American.
Born and raised in Hungary, he escaped to the West in 1956, became
a Canadian citizen in 1961, later moved to the U.S.A. and was naturalized
to USA citizenship in 2000. Welcome aboard!
Here's some references for Les's
early work in this area:
Besser, L., Newcomb, R.,
"A Scattering Matrix Program for High Frequency Circuit Analysis"
IEEE Conference on Systems, Networks, and Computers, Mexico, January
Besser, L. "Computer
Aided Design of High Frequency Circuits" Electromechanical
Design, August 1971
Besser, L. "A Fast
Computer Routine to Design High Frequency Circuits" IEEE
ICC Conference, San Francisco, California, June 1970
Les Besser submitted a description
of his COMPACT computer program to the IEEE Circuit Theory Transaction
for publication in 1972, but they rejected it, perhaps because it
didn't contain enough fancy equations... below Les Besser fills
us on this chapter of microwave history in an email to Microwaves101
dated September 1, 2004:
"The article you mentioned
was initially rejected by the IEEE Circuit Theory
(now Circuits and Systems) Group. I felt quite bad at first, until
I found out that Phil Smith's original article on the Smith Chart
was also rejected with "No practical contribution" comment.
After rewriting the COMPACT article (removing most of the explanations
and adding lots of complex matrix equations) it was published."
No practical contribution indeed!
There can be no doubt that the IEEE will never publish an article
on Microwaves101 either! Here is a scan of as close to the original
COMPACT user's manual as you will ever get:
Because it predated the personal
computer, COMPACT ran on mainframe "timeshared" computers
such as the monsters from Control Data Corporation and IBM. Most
of us thought that COMPACT was so wonderful, no one could ever compete
with it or improve upon it. The first versions only analyzed and
optimized circuits made from ideal transmission lines (and could
only handle elements with cascaded or series/parallel connected
two-ports, ergo no multiloop feedback circuits!) Soon microstrip
elements and discontinuity junctions were added. Later versions
could do crude matching network synthesis and even drew Smith charts
using alphanumeric characters. What could be better than using a
line editor on a remote printer terminal? This was so much better
than punch cards! Recall the simple pleasures of using remote terminals
hooked up with 300 baud acoustical modems, while paying $3000-$5000
per CPU hour. Didn't every engineer take pride in knowing the proper
connect settings, such as seven or eight bits, odd or even parity?
Come to think of it, the situation was not that good. But by 1980,
if you were lucky enough to own a Digital Equipment VAX, you could
run COMPACT on it, thereby owning your own design workstation, which
probably cost only $250K! Below is some COMPACT marketing material.
COMPACT was bought out by COMSAT
in 1980, and Les Besser was associated with it for three more years
only. During that time a third-generation version, SuperCOMPACT
was released that became the industry standard. While the COMPACT
SOFTWARE group was fat, dumb and happy, a revolution started in
the early 1980s, due to the IBM personal computer. Even with its
incredibly limited memory and low speed, some visionaries recognized
that microwave design would some day be done on this type of platform.
Two specific groups of visionaries included some California dudes
from "the valley", who chose the name EESof, and some
guys located at Stone Mountain Georgia (near Dogpatch), who chose
the really cool name Circuit Busters (who ya gonna call?)
COMSAT could read the writing
on the wall and eventually offered SUPER-COMPACT-PC, a version of
which could run on an IBM PC. They added their own layout tool,
AUTO-ART. However, SuperCOMPACT PC was a "chopped-up"
version of the large mainframe program, while Touchstone was written
for the PC architecture, taking advantage of the new operating system,
and the decade-long leadership of Compact Software was successfully
challenged by EESof. After Comsat lost interest in CAD, COMPACT
Software again became a private company, owned by Ulrich Rohde.
It was located across the street from his other microwave enterprise,
Synergy Microwave, in beautiful Patterson
NJ, birthplace of funnyman Lou
5, 2006. We'll let Ulrich fill you in on the history of COMPACT
from here on:
"The 201 McLean Boulevard
Patterson location on Route 20 near the river is and was a nice
location and Compact was in a fancy building. No need to shoot
When I bought the company
from Comsat, both the main frame version and the PC version where
unstable and models such as T-junctions, crosses and others fairly
inaccurate at higher frequencies. Becoming a partner in the DARPA
MIMIC program, and mostly financed from earnings rather the
DARPA money, these things were changed by developing EM-based
models, and verified by Raytheon and Texas Instruments.
The most significant contributions
N-dimensional nodal noise
analysis for all types of both linear and nonlinear circuits,
including oscillators, mixers and amplifiers under large signal
EM-based models with extremely
short computational time replacing lookup tables and curve fittings.
The multi-coupled line model by itself is a full EM-based simulator
with extreme accuracy .
The first complete nodal-based
harmonic balance simulator with the most stable convergence
for multi-tone analysis, and still the leading approach in the
industry. This is important for mixers (3-tones) and n-stage
designs where more harmonics are generated.
Complete nonlinear microwave
nonlinear models , much improved over the SPICE-type models,
and new important models such as GaAs, HBT (even physics based)
and others became available.
A new yield analysis capability
was added and other improvements in optimization (nonlinear
optimization) were made. As an important example, oscillators
can be optimized for best phase.
There were a large number
of other enhancements made and utility programs added. After the
merger with Ansoft, the Harmonica Program became Ansoft Designer."
L. Rohde, PhD, ex-President Compact Software, Chairman of
Synergy Microwave Company.
Did we mention that Ulrich was
on the Ansoft board of directors in 2004? Ulrich had a few other
comments but they they sounded too much like free advertising for
Ansoft so we cropped them out. One part of the original COMPACT,
Smith Tool, is rumored to exist in an Ansoft program even today.
At one time, there was a version
of COMPACT that could be run as a module on the HP41 programmable
calculator, so you could take your designs to the "reading
room". Thanks to Dave, who still has a copy!
We need to add some history here,
but for now we'll just copy some stuff we grabbed from the Ansoft
web site. Ansoft was founded in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania in 1984
by Dr. Zoltan Cendes. At some point they merged with SuperCOMPACT.
OK, that wasn't much, maybe next
time Zol Googles his name he will come across this reference and
send us some stuff!
Touchstone and Libra
EESof was a well financed enterprise
from the beginning, the brainchild of Chuck Abronson and a former
Compact employee, Bill Childs. Their first product was called TOUCHSTONE,
introduced in 1983. We don't think the name was an acronym. To the
user, it seemed like they had ripped off the entire COMPACT netlist
interface, but behind that they had created an entirely new engine
(another hardware term unfortunately ripped off by geeks). It must
have been very efficient, because it ran fast enough on an IBM-AT
PC so that it wasn't too annoying (no doubt you had to spring for
the math coprocessor on the PC). It also could run on H-P minicomputers.
This quickly got a lot of attention from engineers who were sick
of mainframes, where they generally had to play second fiddles to
accounting and data processing departments.
New for June 2010: Here's
the perspective of someone who was there (thanks!)
I can add a little background
to the Touchstone story. I worked at Amplica during the period
of time when EEsof was formed. Our president Chuck A. had sold
the company to Comsat the year before I joined; Comsat had also
bought Compact Software the year before that. One of the Comsat
engineers that had worked with the Compact part of the business
(Bill Childs) was transferred to Amplica to help develop our amplifier
designs. It was Bill who authored Touchstone. He would carry a
Compaq portable PC back and forth to work every day (it looked
like a sewing machine in its case), and that’s the platform he
developed much of the code on. Chuck was the money and business
man, he made no technical contributions to the program.
To analyze circuits using TOUCHSTONE,
you had to have two display screens for your PC, one for handling
the netlist and the other for displaying results. One huge innovation
they are credited with is the ability to "tune" the circuit
and watch the response move. TOUCHSTONE required a hardware key
on the printer port to keep track of the license, making it portable
as well. By 1987 EESof's TOUCHSTONE was linked with a crude layout
tool (MiCAD), and a version of SPICE. Another cool program they
offered was ANACAT, which allowed you to control a Hewlett Packard
8510 network analyzer or the equivalent Wiltron ANA from a PC, and
be able to sort data in an acceptable format for reading into TOUCHSTONE.
By this time the guys at COMPACT must have soiled themselves with
fear for their jobs.
EESof often ran ads that always
showed food on top of a computer in a covert but successful effort
to promote obesity and chair stains in the industry.
TOUCHSTONE product eventually became "Libra" when the
harmonic balance analysis was added, which was a truly great piece
of software (some MMIC geeks get all misty when you mention it)
but a step backward to PC users since it typically ran on a UNIX
platform. Most of the physical circuit elements first became perfected
on this package. Hewlett Packard had their own CAD software called
MDS microwave design microwave (thanks for the correction, John
D!). Eventually they bought out EEsof, pink-slipped a bunch of their
competitors and over the years abandoned the Libra code (which started
as TOUCHSTONE) and came up with an entirely new code stream which
is now ADS. ADS is not an improvement in user-friendliness over
any of its predecessors, according to a lot of microwave engineers.
However, there is hope for this product, we can report that a test
copy of the next 2004 release being used by a "Microwaves101
unnamed source" runs much faster, which could indicate that
Agilent has finally gotten around to cleaning out all the dead code
in the bastard grandson of TOUCHSTONE.
Attention Intel and other politically
correct companies... the word "bastard" is not a "swear
word", it means illegitimate. Did you know that bastards are
a fast growing demographic in the good 'ol diverse USA? Just ask
your kids or grandkids how many of their little friends have parents
that never married. Maybe someday the IEEE will form an interest
group called "Microwave Transactions from Bastards", or
MTB for short!
In case you are looking for Mr.
Abronson, he's now Chairman
of CAP Wireless.
BUSTERS, SUPERSTAR, and Eagleware
CIRCUIT BUSTERS (what's with
all the capital letters that were used in the 1980s?), was founded
in 1985, by a filter designer Randy Rhea. While his team was at
the task of developing a competing product for linear analysis,
they put together some filter synthesis software. The first product
was called STAR and you could buy it from a little ad in the back
pages of trade mags for $99 (and
they took VISA and MasterCard, another brilliant move not anticipated
by COMPACT), delivered on a 5.5 inch floppy disc. This was truly
an unheard of price, probably less than the square-root of what
COMPACT was selling for. We asked Randy about this, and he recalled
that he had to rethink the original price, considering the limited
market. CIRCUIT-BUSTERS "second generation" product was
called SUPER-STAR and was marketed at $595 less than two years later.
Since CIRCUIT BUSTERS was a garage
shop, they didn't get around to putting a key on the software until
future versions. Either they had some financial help from their
in-laws, or they didn't quit their day jobs for a few years. Below
is the earliest advertisement we could turn up for CIRCUIT BUSTERS
(MW&RF January 1987), featuring an earnest-looking and young
Randy Rhea (nice tie!), who personally guarantees his software.
The Unknown Editor liked the price, and still has a copy of SUPER
STAR 1.0 somewhere under a pile of other priceless artifacts!
What happened to CIRCUIT BUSTERS?
They renamed the company Eagleware in 1991, and they are a huge
success (ask any of their well-treated employees!) Eagleware is
an inspiration to microwave garage operations all over the world,
such as a certain microwave web site.
In 2005, Eagleware sold out to Agilent. Time will tell if the Eagleware
linear simulator survives, it certainly undermines the sales of
ADS. As Paul Harvey might say, "now you know the rrreeest of
A relative newcomer to Microwave
CAD is Applied Wave Research.
This company was founded by a couple of ex-Hughes MMIC designers,
well before Raytheon bought Hughes and deep-sixed their Gallium
Arsenide Operations foundry. In any case, AWR's Microwave Office
is a slick package that combines a linear simulator with E-M analysis.
They even allow you to plug in EM software from their competitors,
such as Sonnet. Interoperability is the name of the game going forward,
these dudes know what they are doing.
Meanwhile during the 1980s, some
other folks were working on applying Maxwell's equations to solve
arbitrary two and three dimensional geometries. Sonnet was among
the first of these software products. James Rautio started Sonnet
in his home in 1983, while designing MMICs for General Electric
in Syracuse, jumping ship in 1988 and making his first sale the
following year. Sonnet is still privately held, unlike Super COMPACT,
EEsof, or Eagleware. Learn more about the early days of Sonnet here
on their web
Here's your opportunity to help
us, there are other software products out there that we'd like to
know the history of.
In 1992, Zeland
Software started offering IE3D, in competition with Ansoft's
The first nonlinear simulators
(besides SPICE products) also arrived in the late 1980s, and used
harmonic balance techniques.
Today, there is huge competition
from software vendors for your microwave analysis budget. Enjoy
it! We'll add more history of microwave software later, especially
if some more of you "founding fathers" contribute!