u p F r o n t . e Z i n e
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Issue #646 | May 18, 2010 | English Edition
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In This Issue
1. Tal Weiss on Project Butterfly
- Single Point of Access
2. LEDAS Responds to D-Cubed
Guest Editorial by Dmitry Ushakov
- Constraints Solved to the Users' Satisfaction
- Constraint Technology for the Future
3. And in Other News
Tal Weiss on Project Butterfly
When in 2007 Visual Tao first launched in Israel (under the name of PlanPlatform), co-founders Tal Weiss, Irish Shoor, and Jonathan Seroussi wanted to develop SaaS [software as a service] technology for editing 2D/3D CAD and GIS data from any Internet-connected computing device. Since the early days, they narrowed their aim on replicating AutoCAD in Flash running on a regular computer over the Internet, with the help of half a million dollars in funding from Sequoia Capital.
Before they were bought by Autodesk last December, they got their software to the point where four users could co-edit DWG files simultaneously (no "passing the baton") through Web browsers, hosted on Amazon.com's cloud service, EC2 [Elastic Cloud Computing]. The software also read DXF, JPG, PNG, BMP, and GIF files, and could link to geospatial databases, like ESRI's ArcSDE, Microsoft's SQL, and Oracle's Geospatial.
Because Visual Tao initially developed this AutoCAD "clone" outside of Autodesk, the user interface is different from that of AutoCAD. The current release of Project Butterfly (the name of the technology preview available from Autodesk Labs) combines elements of AutoCAD 2011's ribbon with Web-friendly elements from the original Visual Tao, such as the chat panel and the zoom slider. There is no command line.
Today, former ceo Tal Weiss is the lead software development manager at Autodesk for Project Butterfly. He explained to upFront.eZine that the best way to understand the software is that Butterfly is to AutoCAD as Google Docs is to Microsoft Office. It lets you view and edit DWG files on any browser on any computer. Well, almost any. Because Butterfly runs on Flash, it cannot operate on the iPad. Indeed, Butterfly is not suitable for any small form-factor device, such as those running Android. Naturally, the developers are looking into HTML 5, Android, iPad, and so on.
To get started, you can click the Try Now button at http://butterfly.autodesk.com, which lets you load one of three sample drawings. I was pleased to find that it worked speedily in Opera v10.5x, a Web browser brand that sometimes suffers from compatibility difficulties. It also ran in FireFox on my Linux-based 800MHz netbook, albeit somewhat cramped on its 800x480 screen! If you wish to work with your own drawings or share them, then you need to create an account with Autodesk. Sharing is done by sending a link to the drawing (or an entire folder of drawings). The recipient receives an email that looks like this:
r g has invited you to join an online meeting. Click the following link or the image bellow to join the conversation. Link: http://butterfly.autodesk.com/app/message?link=x
Clicking on the link opens Butterfly in the Web browser, and then loads the drawing. You can have multiple instances of Butterfly open in the browser. Sharing can be designated as:
- Review: view and redline only.
- Co-edit: view and edit in real time.
- Share: download the file (full editing).
Single Point of Access
With the drawings hosted in a central location, Butterfly becomes single point of access that ensures people are using the current version of a drawing. Green tags indicate shared files.
"But what about the case when a user downloads the drawing to his desktop computer," I wondered, because now there are two versions of the drawing. Mr Weiss replied that it is up to the owner of the drawing to decide is downloading is permitted; the capability is there, but need not be used. (As he was speaking, I was thinking that there isn't any Microsoft Sharepoint going on here.) Separately, I read that Visual Tao had Sync Utility that synchronized desktop files with online versions; there was no mention of it in our conference call.
Butterfly is still in development, with a half-dozen updates since January. The day of our conference call, support for complex linetypes was made available. Another new feature overlays DWG files on Google map locations, or 30+ formats of raster images.
That got me to thinking: "What a job: Autodesk rewriting AutoCAD all over again." And so Butterfly has its limitations. For instance, multiple selections are limited to 30 objects. It does not plot. At this point, all you can do is print the screen or export drawings in JPG (ugh!) or PNG (slightly better) raster formats. I suggested they may want to implement the Google Docs approach, which is to generate a PDF, which can be printed.
There may be AutoCAD-features missing, but Butterfly does stuff AutoCAD doesn't do yet, such as the Design Timeline. This is a slider that lets you see earlier versions of the drawing (see figure). Butterfly captures all changes, markups, and chat meetings, and stores it in Amazon.com's "infinite" storage space.
Figure 1: Project Butterfly displays an AutoCAD drawing. The Design Timeline slider is near the top.
(Click figure for full-resolution image.)
Mr Weiss and his team are now working on implementing Design Timeline in AutoCAD. The problem, he told me, is determining how to recreate the archived data. One idea is to place each earlier revision on its own group of layers; another is to implement some sort of multiple-view version, as was implemented for annotative text.
upFront.eZine: When is the release date?
Mr Weiss: We can not discuss our future timeline.
upFront.eZine: I suppose Project Butterfly will not be keeping this name?
Mr Weiss: Typically when projects leave Autodesk Labs they take on other names, and this would likely be the case for Butterfly.
upFront.eZine: What will be the pricing? (Google Docs commercially is $50/person/year)
Mr Weiss: Undetermined.
upFront.eZine: What does the VisualTao team think of Google's NaCl (native client) approach to running core code natively in a Web browser?
Mr Weiss: We think it's a great technology and we hope it will be widely adopted by different platform/Web browser vendors.
upFront.eZine: Google reads the contents of emails and other documents stored in its cloud in order to generate relevent ads, and then profit from the ads. Would Autodesk do this?
Mr Weiss: No.
upFront.eZine: The Timeline had dots of differing colors. Doe the colors have meaning?
Mr Weiss: No special meaning; it's a means of making them easily distinguishable.
upFront.eZine: From reading the Project Butterfly blog, I get the feeling that VisualTao is a complete rewrite of AutoCAD from the ground up. Is this correct?
Mr Weiss: Not really. Butterfly relies heavily on existing AutoCAD technologies (such as RealDWG) and is/will be reusing more and more components as Butterfly matures.
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LEDAS Responds to D-Cubed
Guest Editorial by Dmitry Ushakov
"All About D-Cubed's 2D DCM" was especially interesting, since the name of the company I work for (LEDAS) was mentioned. In answering upFront.eZine's question about competitors, D-Cubed's Dr Howarth said that "For the DCM geometric constraint solving components, LEDAS, based in Russia, is a relatively recent entrant". May I make a correction?
LEDAS Ltd. was established eleven years ago -- in 1999. Seven years ago, we began selling our technology component LGS 2D, a direct competitor of D-Cubed's 2D DCM. Our component is designed to support parametric sketching/drawing in 2D/3D CAD/CAM/CAE applications. Since then, a dozen software companies have licensed LGS 2D, as well as our 3D version, LGS 3D (our component that is a competitor of D-Cube's 3D DCM), and embedded them successfully into their applications. So, while we are ten years younger than D-Cubed, we are not new.
From our point of view, the primary difference between us is that D-Cubed is a part of a big vendor, Siemens PLM Systems; we are independent. Siemens PLM Systems competes in the CAD/CAM applications market against other companies who license D-Cubed's components. Do these companies receive the same level of technical support and functionality as do divisions inside Siemens? For example, are any competitors able to license Siemens' synchronous technology? This is not a question that our customers need to ask, for all of our technologies are completely available to them, because we do not compete with our customers.
We are aware of Dr. Owen (founder of D-Cubed) and his remarkable contribution to the field of geometric constraint solving. At the same time, it is worthwhile mentioning the contributions of other researchers. Among them are Prof. Hoffmann from Purdue University (USA), Prof. Michelucci from Université de Bourgogne (France), and Prof. Clement from Dassault Systemes (France), as well as other pioneer researchers whose work on solving geometric constraints go as far back as 1975.
Constraints Solved to the Users' Satisfaction
Whereas algorithmic issues have been elaborated enough during the last thirty years, there are just a few commercial geometric constraint solvers on the market. In my opinion, it is not enough to only solve the constraint satisfaction problem. What is also needed is a way to find a solution that best corresponds to the expectations of end-users -- this is called natural behavior, and sometimes depends on the subjective opinions of users. The maturity of a particular commercial technology for constraint solving is based on continuous improvement in the quality of its solving procedure. This process is driven by requests from customers who use the solver in different contexts.
LEDAS also does research in constraint solving. It seems that our team is somewhat similar in its scientific and technical background to the one Dr Howarth works with; in particular, about half of our developers have their Ph.D.s and many others have a good chance to receiving it. This brain power is necessary, because the development of CAD components combines strong mathematical, computer science, and software engineering know-how. We actively collaborate with universities, such as the ongoing research at Purdue University (USA) in the field of CAD user interfaces. Together, we are improving constraint-driven freehand sketching, which is the key to building robust sketch-aware systems and sketch-based interfaces for future CAD systems.
Some customers who license our technology are not only traditional CAD vendors (Tecnos G.A. and CD-adapco), but also firms who embed our LGS 3D component into custom CAD systems. Joe Gibbs Racing of NASCAR, for example, is using our software to assemble suspension parts onto the chassis. Other customers prefer to exploit our mathematically-skilled team to develop proprietary key components, such as for CATIA V5, which has been on the market now for several years.
Last year, we collaborated with Open Design Alliance, a non-profit consortium of over 2,000 software developers, to integrate our LGS 2D geometric constraint solver into their Teigha platform, and is fully compatible with the DWG 2010 file format. Now our solver is available to ODA members who require constraint support for their applications.
Constraint Technology for the Future
One of Dr. Howarth's interesting points is regarding the future direction for geometric constraint solvers. We share his vision of increasing the use of 3D solvers as the engine for a new generation of direct modelers. For us, this is an important field of research. As direct modelers become more popular, the question becomes how to keep design intent in a history-free environment. To answer the question, LEDAS is now developing our "variational direct modeling" (VDM) technology.
(VDM allows users to intelligently modify any parameter in a direct modeling system, while design intent is automatically recognized by our engine and expressed as a set of geometric and engineering constraints. We have developed a plug-in for McNeel & Associates' Rhinoceros direct modeling software, which allows anyone to evaluate our VDM technology.)
I trust that this addition to the Dr. Howarth interview is useful for readers of upFront.eZine, and I am available to answer further questions at email@example.com
[Dmitry Ushakov is director of product management at LEDAS, Novosibirsk Russia.]
And In Other News
FreeDesign gets a fourth patent, this time for "Computational Geometry Using Control Geometry Having At Least Two Dimensions." Should CAD vendors be concerned? Maybe, says the carefully worded reply from president Roger Pomainville:
"While we cannot comment precisely on the question, FreeDesign believes that the technology disclosed in our patents is fundamental to the computer aided design industry and therefore we pay close attention to developments other vendors deliver."
Consider yourselves warned. htpp://www.freedesign3d.com
Geomagic is reknown for its tres expensive reverse engineering software, and now Studio 12 does autosurfacing, automatic surface and solids trimming, and fast hole-filling and automatic healing of polygon meshes. Integrates with Inventor, CATIA, Pro/E, NX, and SolidWorks. http://12.geomagic.com
The Linux versions of DWG-based CAD programs Bricsys' Bricscad and Graebert's Ares are slowly, almost painfully emerging, and last week Bricscad for Ubuntu (and any other Debian-based Linux, actually) and Red Hat came out in beta. Sign up and download at http://www.bricsys.com -- just click the giant penguin!
Altadyn ceo Darius Lahoutifard writes, "We just announced the first voice-enabled 3D immersive collaboration platform for virtual meetings and events with no download required." http://www.3dxplorer.com
In the midst of the ITC's scarey legal action against Surya Sarda (Cadopia), president Bob McGill steps down as prez. And that position might no longer exist, according to Darcy Detlor on Deelip.com. The ITC is discussing "the need for a president versus other options" as paid positions. http://www.deelip.com/?p=2371
"We would be grateful if you would kindly publish this as soon as possible," asks Sescoi International politely. The "this" is this: "WorkNC CAM software is still number 1 in Japan." In a market as fragmented as NC [numerical control] it's important to be #1 in an area. http://www.sescoi.com
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Email Robert Lansdale (firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss your exacting requirements. Popular requests for 2009: Sketch-Up, 3ds Max, Maya, XSI, DWF-3D, Inventor, Pro/E, SolidWorks, CATIA, BREP solids (IGES/STEP/Parasolid), 3D PDF/U3D, JT & Collada.
We know data translation and provide immaculate developer-to-customer relations. http://www.okino.com.
Letters to the Editor
Do you know what % of the building industry successfully utilized BIM?
Nice piece on DCM’s solver. This is exactly what I want in a 2D application. Too bad it’s not even close to being ready in any of the 2D modelers. If the 2d solvers could be like what in the SW or IV sketching modules, I’d love it (and buy it!).
- Chris Huminski
The editor replies: "Regarding BIM market share, sorry, no idea."
I got downsized after 15 years as CAD manager at a structural engineering consulting firm. The construction industry stoppage finally caught up with me. I’m unemployed for now but not discouraged.
If you know of anyone in need of someone with 26 years of experience in the construction design and administration, including software and IT, I could certainly use a lead right about now. I realize it’s a tall order to get any job in the construction industry now, since that sector is experiencing unprecedented unemployment, but I have a few bright spots that help me stay upbeat.
First, I am willing to go anywhere.
Second, I can work in a bunch of industries, since I am an AutoCAD guru and CAD manager. Many of these skills could be used in other fields, from CAD to IT.
- Ron Powell
"Real men run their own inboxes."
- Andrew Orlowski, The Register
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