My first DAC trip was 1987 when I worked for Silicon Compiler Systems as a corporate Application Engineer.  My focus was on the demo suites and getting my just-compiled version of software to actually run the live demo to showcase new features. Computer hardware like the MicroVAX was not that reliable, so just surviving the truck travel and booting up were reasons to celebrate. Hardware vendors were nearby with back-up machines to make us software companies look good when DAC opened on Monday morning.

I recall rules at the exhibit area where they had a cut-off time on Sunday nights and if you left your exhibit after the designated time then you couldn’t return to your booth. It was commonplace for vendors to spend the entire night getting their machines and demos up and running.

Our corporate goal was simple – attract clients and prospects into our demo suites all day so that they wouldn’t have any time to see competitor tools in the other suites. We actually ran the software tools on real or demo designs to show off the features, plus a little time with overhead slides to show off the product roadmap. Fancy presentations were shown with 35mm color slides.

Eventually the DAC structure changed so that the demo suites were no longer off-site, they were integrated into the same exhibit area as the booths. Still, in the 90’s we could witness live product demos up and down the aisles of booths. You could easily spot the buzz at DAC by how deep the crowds were around the live demos.

Eventually we saw the demise of live demos in the booths instead replaced by theatre presentations with slick MTV-style movie clips. You had to be invited into the suites to see live demos running.

One year IBM decided to make a huge splash at DAC to showcase their internal tools to the world. They were very impressive and the people showing the demos were either tool developers or IC designers, and very knowledgable. I recall getting into one of their demo suites only to be escorted out of the suite during the presentation, “for competitive” reasons.

In recent years I’ve notice that even in the suites we are seeing mostly PowerPoint slides and screen shots with fewer and fewer live demos of tools. The thinking must be that CAD managers only want the big picture while actual tool users are not attending DAC as much due to shrinking travel budgets. CAD managers want to lower the risk of buying and using a new tool, so stability is most important.

The last year that Cadence attended the DAC exhibit area they trimmed down the number of tools being shown. I couldn’t even find one person to talk about their FastSPICE tool. Cadence was the first large and public EDA company to pull out of the exhibit area in favor of promoting their own tradeshow. I can understand the thought process to have their own show and keep the attention of their clients loyal to the Cadence brand.

Free Monday at the exhibit area has been around for many years and created a flood of interested people on opening day. This year there is no free Monday, so I expect exhibit traffic to be much lower than in past years. It looks like a blunder by the DAC committee to limit exhibit attendance by charging $50.

Cadence use to throw the biggest DAC party, however now it’s the Denali party that you do not want to miss.

Let’s see what new trends emerge at DAC 2009 in San Francisco.