A third-party spoiled Autodesk's Christmas present to itself -- the planned purchase of Softdesk for US$72million. In fact, Softdesk's Web site had already been Autodesk-ized and a Autodesk-SoftDesk video was in the mail to the media. An unnamed third-party forced Autodesk to up its offer by US$15 million. Naturally, the email lines buzzed with anticipation: Who could the mystery interloper be?
Some guessed Bentley Systems. Others guessed Nemetschek. But the evidence points to PTC for more reasons than the simplistic, "They have the cash to pull it off." Two significant events happened in 1996: (1) Autodesk began an aggressive move into mechanical engineering, a field dominated -- certainly in mindshare -- by Parametric Technology Corporation; and (2) PTC purchased an object- oriented A/E/C software package (called Reflex). When Autodesk announced its plan to purchase SoftDesk for its A/E/C software, could it be that PTC felt attacked in both its market areas and perhaps felt the need to counterattack? Reflex is due to ship to PTC dealers this month for the Silicon Graphics workstation; a port to the Intel CPU is expected later this year.
A court has ruled that Vermont Microsystems was damaged by Autodesk to the tune of US$7.8 million, plus two years interest. This is a reduction from the original amount of US$25.5 million over Autodesk's misappropriation of VMI's display-list processing technology. In their press release. Autodesk accepts the amount of damages as reasonable.
The slow, phased introduction of Autodesk's object-oriented programming interface caused no end of frustration for third-party developers and AutoCAD licensees alike. Even the name changed recently, originally "ARx" (short for the rather uninspiring "AutoCAD Runtime eXtension") to the more glamorous "ObjectARx." It took two years, but the API is finally stable and in place.
For Release 14, though, things are supposed to be different. According to Autodesk, a simple recompile is all it will take to move an ARx application from R13 to R14. If this is indeed the case, then third-party developers will be ready to ship R14-ized products whenever Autodesk is ready to ship R14 to licensees (currently slated for July, 1997).
However, a second, more interesting scenario is possible. Competitors to Autodesk -- such as Intergraph, PTC, SolidWorks, ESRI -- who have established product names in vertical markets -- such as architecture, mechanical design, GIS, etc -- could convert their products to ARx add-ons. And they'd be ready to ship when R14 ships. While this scenario spells trouble for Autodesk's already- troubled add-on software business, it would be the cure for Autodesk's difficulty in convincing R11 and R12 users to upgrade.
A second benefit is that it would cement AutoCAD as the de facto "operating system" for the CAD world -- providing a degree of stability for dealers, training centers, third-party developers, and Autodesk for many years.
One reason for Autodesk's purchase of SoftDesk is the work SoftDesk programmers did with ObjectARx -- they even gave it their own name, AEC-X, a name that might (or might not) survive SoftDesk's absorption into Autodesk. Here are some examples of what ObjectARx allows SoftDesk's software running on AutoCAD R13 (and R14) to do:
Further to our warning last issue about Microsoft's plans to automatically update the software your computer, reader Jeff Sonstein <firstname.lastname@example.org> agrees: "IMHO, you are totally right. This is *besides* the security issues. The DLL overwriting already drives everyone nuts without also swarming over the network automatically -- so I cannot tell whose software has screwed up my machine ;}" -- jeffs at the vrmLab
Ralph Grabowski enthuses: "The Christmas present I bought myself was a US Robotics Pilot 1000, which the local electronics superstore had for US$185. It is an impressive little gadget -- it uses a 100% accurate handwriting recognition system that takes all of five minutes to memorize. The Pilot uses a 16MHz Motorola "DragonBall" 68328 chip; 512KB ROM that holds the Palm OS and built-in apps; runs for about two months on a pair of AAA batteries; and can store up to 6,000 records. The primary reason I decided on the Pilot was its effortless synchronization with the desktop computer.
"I found it's a better deal to buy the Pilot 1000 (with 128KB RAM) and then later purchase the 1MB replacement RAM - - US$99 -- (instead of buying the Pilot 5000 with 512KB RAM -- US$50 more) because: (1) I have throw away the old RAM module; and (2) the 1MB module causes the Pilot to operate twice as fast. (If you're good at soldering, there are instruction how to solder additional RAM modules onto the 128KB PCB on the Internet.)
"When I download software for the Pilot from the Internet, the average filesize is a mere 14KB! Goes to show just how bloated Windows software is. I've downloaded Tetris (for me, no computer is complete without Tetris), chess, an analog clock face, a drawing program, and a dozen other freeware programs. My kids (all 10 and under) love the interface: for them, it's natural to tap, write, and draw directly on its 160x160-pixel screen.
"The most fascinating download is called CoPilot, which is a software emulator of the Pilot running on a regular Intel computer under Windows. The GUI of CoPilot is identical to the Pilot, down to the look of the plastic case. Since you cannot program on the Pilot itself, you have to write programs on a desktop computer, then transfer. CoPilot is meant to let you test the software before transferring. However, CoPilot can also be used to play Pilot games on a regular computer <g>."
More info at http://www.usr.com/pilot
In conjunction with Amazon.Com, use the URL to find out more information about (or make a purchase of) these newly- released CAD and Internet books:
"CAD Method for Industrial Assembly: Concurrent Design of Products, Equipment, and Control Systems" by A. Delchambre List price: US$49.95 (hardcover); published by John Wiley & Sons
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"Technical Drawing, 10th Ed." by Frederick Giesecke, Alva Mitchell, Henry Spencer List price: US$80.75 (hardcover); published by Prentice Hall PTR
"Workview Office Student Edition: Schematic Entry and Digital Analysis" by R. James Duckworth List price: US$66.67 (paperback); published by Prentice Hall
"CAD at Work: Implementing Computer-Aided Design" by Ashley Hastings List price: US$40.00 (paperback); published by McGraw Hill
"[Netscape] is using the wrong business model. It's taking money from partners and, in a market-share war, you must never do that. The only time you can take money from partners is when they don't have any place else to go."
-- Geoffrey Moore, interviewed in Internet World magazine, January, 1997.