The fall-out of the DOT-COM bust has brought CNC to the hobbyist. Couple the availability of low/no cost CNC control software, low-cost integrated circuitry, and the tons of high-end hardware now found on eBay: and for the first time in history, CNC is attainable to the hobby market.
We prefer EMC2 on Linux and Ubuntu, but there are others available for those who are shy.
KCAM works great in Windows 98. Mach3 has a HUGE support group and bypasses some of the timing issues of the Windows environment. TurboCNC is a great piece of software, if you don't want to visualize your tool paths in real time and are comfortable in DOS.
EMC2 is completely Open Source, free to use, and probably the most reliable, flexible, robust system out there. The AXIS Graphical User Interface is second to none (IMHO).
The experts out there may disagree, but if you had to be an expert to do this.. you probably wouldn't be here right now, would you?
So, what software is involved in CNC? There are primarily three parts:
Your CAD (Computer Aided Design) software (wikipedia) is where you design your parts to be routed, lathed, milled, or cut.
CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) software (wikipedia) converts your CAD drawings into G-code, which is the programming language that the CNC control software understands.
The CNC control software then reads the G-code and turns it into motion to drive your machine. This is usually done by reading and writing pins on the parallel port, but there are some motor controllers which can operate from serial or USB, as well.
Our stepper motor driver kits make use of the parallel port signals. The breakout board splits these signals so that the step, direction, and enable lines for each axis are routed to each motor driver board.
There are other more specialized g-code generating tools used for specific purposes, such as generating PCB isolation routing, generating a pattern of holes, or roughing out a pocket. Some people choose to write the g-code by hand, as well.
Another type of CNC control software is available for specialized CNC hot-wire foam cutting machines.
Parallel Port Interfacing:
Check out www.kellyware.com for KCam & The MaxStepper!
From the MaxStepper Manual: MaxStepper is a PC-controlled serial step and direction pulse generator that provides exceptionally smooth operation at a reasonable price. It interfaces a PC running Microsoft Windows and a set of four stepper motor drivers, and uses a microcontroller to convert serial commands to pulses. MaxStepper can control auxiliary devices such as relays, and has inputs for monitoring devices or auxiliary switches.