u p F r o n t . e Z i n e
the business of cad
Issue #706 | September 15, 2011
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In This Issue
1. upFront.eZine at SolidWorks Media Day 2011
- Speed Dating
2. Graphisoft BIMx for iPads
- Graphisoft Steps Up
- Using Facebook for the Cloud
- Demo Time
3. Out of the Inbox and our other regular columns
Next issue of upFront.eZine comes out on Monday, 10 October. For the next two weeks, I am working at a consulting job in Manila, Philippines, followed by attending the Bricsys Developer Conference in Brussels, Belgium. Follow along on the WorldCAD Access blog at worldcadaccess.typepad.com. See you in mid-October!
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upFront.eZine at SolidWorks Media Day 2011
This was the Media Day that almost wasn't, as weather forecasters and cable channel talking heads warned of Hurricane Irene's threat in being a 100-year storm. Visions of a Boston devastated more than a New Oreleans danced in the minds of invited journalists, analysts, customers, and DS SolidWorks staff. Some were forced to cancel, because airlines cancelled their flights.
As the brave remainder flew in Monday, it was a sunny and warm day that greeted us, without any sign of a hurricane -- or topical storm, as it turned out to be. For public relations manager Kristen Wilson, it was the first major event planned by her in her new position, and she handled it well, sending out updates throughout the weekend. About the only time she came anything close to cracking, was when one journalist asked if the electricity would be on: "Let's worry about one thing at a time," she replied.
In a change from other media events, each journalist was given seven exclusive minutes with several executives, one at a time; Ms Wilson called it "SolidWorks Speed Dating." Bill Fane, whose flight to Boston was cancelled by Air Canada, asked me to ask on his behalf the following question...
Q: "Two years ago at SolidWorks World, I heard the word 'cloud' so often that I thought I had wandered into a meteorologist's convention by mistake. To say that it was received less than enthusiastically would be a gross understatement. (As I recollect, Mythbusters had better success flying a lead balloon.) Since then, we haven't heard much about the cloud. What is the current status with regards to SolidWorks and other DS programs."
As it turned out, my first exec was Rick Chin, director of marketing innovation -- a title as inscrutable as the information he's allowed to give out, since he oversees secret future products. Nevertheless, he was able to answer Mr Fane's question:
A: "SolidWorks V6 is the name of the cloud version. It is based on Enovia, and is in development. The first SolidWorks-oriented cloud product was n!view."
I asked further questions to learn that the V6 is not even in beta, making the development of this program in the order of six or seven years, by my count. "It will be released at some point in the near future." Mr Chin referred to today's SolidWorks as "V1."As has been promised before, both programs will coexist for as long as demand exists. [Would it not be ironic if V1 where to outlast V6?]
I wondered if V6 would be as full featured as V1, or a subset in the way that AutoCAD WS is? "The initial version will be a subset to meet the needs of those who would probably use V6." Is this sufficiently vague?
Next exec was Shaun Murphy, manager of product development. In brief, he's in charge of everyone involved with developing software at DS SolidWorks. I asked him to talk a bit about the other sofware mentioned at the day's event, 3Dvia.
"While 3D Via works with Catia, it is primarily meant for SolidWorks, and creating visual assets. The most popular use is for mechanism instructions, but if often used with additional packages, such as Illustrator of InDesign.
The illustrations and animations created by 3dVia are linked back to the design in SolidWorks, so that changes propagate throughout. The related Composer Player does everything, except create assets.
Since Autodesk and other CAD vendors have already shipped viewers for their CAD and publisher software, I wondered what the plans of DS SolidWorks were. They are not yet released for iOS or Android, was the response.
Since Envoia forms the basis of future software from DS SolidWorks, I asked the next executive about it, Austin O'Mallery, vp of r&d. Indeed, a slide lablelled Envoia as "the online platform." (Catia, SolidWorks, Simula, and Delmia were listed as "rich applications" and 3dVia, 3dSwym, and Exalead as "universal applications." DraftSight was ignored on the slide and throughout the media day.)
It was my understanding, I said to him, that Enovia was the only one left standing from Dassault's group of such software. Matrix became part ofEnovia, he explained. SmartTeam is still supported, just no longer developed, and the plan is to migrate these customers to Envoia. Kinosa became Enterprise PDM. Even as Dassault merged all of them into nearly a single brand name, they began splitting off versions. For instance, there is n!fuse for sharing files from inside SolidWorks.
Enovia is not limited to SolidWorks or Catia; it works with Pro/E, Inventor, and so on.
Even though new ceo Bertrand Sicot was for a long time in SolidWorks sales, he is so French that one mistakes him as having been parachuted in from head office in France. But such is not the case.
Bertrand Sicot, DS SolidWorks CEO
I asked him again about the role he sees V6 playing in the future of CAD. "V6 has to solve problems that no CAD software today does," he declared. Perhaps that's why the roll out is taking a longish time.
Earlier in the day, during his opening keynote, he listed his six aims for DS SolidWorks, its employees, and himself:
2. Keep it simple
3. Users first
4. Evolve the software; don't start a revolution
5. Invest in the channel (ie, resellers)
6. And extend the market for professional CAD
He provided an explanation for each point, although some was a bit vague. In terms of extending the market, his slide listed AEC, medical, high technology, industrial design, manufacturing, and consumer product development. We heard nothing, unfortunately, about architectural design.
I asked him how he saw SolidWorks: is it a division, its own company? He stared at me, and then flatly announced, "It's a brand."
CFO David Stott was very open talking about SolidWorks revenues and seat counts:
2010 Dassault revenues: e1.56 billion*
2010 SolidWorks revenues: 417.8 million
2011 SW revenues for first half of the year: $236.6 million**
*) Dassault is benefiting from a weakened American dollar, making their revenues appear to be significantly higher when converted to US$. e1.56 billion works out to US$2.2 billion. This year it could be higher; indeed, Dassault might take over #1 CAD position from Autodesk. We'll see next February, when financial results come out.
**) Double that, and you get $472.6 million (est.) for the year.
SolidWorks revenue by region:
Americas = 37%
EMEA = 42%
Asia Pacific = 21%
Mr Stott noted that emerging markets had double the growth rate of developed countries, but worried about countries he's visited that lack the infrastructure to keep up their torrid growth, especially Brazil and India.
Figure 1: SolidWorks revenue-seats since 2003. The last two bars are half years.
Annual commercial seat sales doubled between 2003 and 2008, but then the recession hit. (See Figure 1.) It appears that this year sales will return to the 2008 level. Some 20% of sales are for "non-CAD" products, specifically simulation, data management, documentation, and environmental analysis.
Speaking of seats, Mr Sicot enthusiastically announced that SolidWorks nearly hit 1.6 million seats, albeit 1.13 million of those are educational.
[Disclosure: DS SolidWorks provided airfare, accommodation, some meals, and corporate gifts.]
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Graphisoft BIMx for iPads
The cloud and the smartphone are new, and as CAD vendors jockey to release their apps for both environments, it feels to me likes its 1999 all over again. That was the year CAD vendors were figuring out this "internet thing," and trying get their heads around (a) what to release, and (b) how to be different from competitors. As an added burden, the etiquette of the Internet meant that the offerings had to appear to be free, and so vendors had determine how to develop things cheaply.
With history to guide us, we know that CAD vendors today are again puzzling their way through the fog of this newest technology and its unlimited possibilities -- not all of which are viable. The multi-part question they are asking themselves is, "How do we...
"...give the appearance of being social (when we want to control the conversation);
"...run our software on tiny smartphones (software that Microsoft's Windows libraries has turned into multi-gigabyte monsters);
"...include the word 'cloud' in our marketing (when we can't be bothered with it);
"...and do all this mostly for free (and still increase quarterly profits)?"
I argue that First Movers have no advantage in this area, for the later a vendor steps in, the more experience he's gained from the attempts of his competitors -- failed and successful.
At this point, I give Autodesk credit for being the furthest ahead with their AutoCAD WS collection, yet even here we see the company taking stabs at different approaches -- going so far as producing a desktop version of WS for the Mac. Another for instance: in upFront.eZine last week, vp Huang Meiyu of China's Suzhou Gstarsoft told me that his company's strategy is to link their free Mobile Client drawing viewer (for iOS) to its GstarCAD desktop software through a proprietary file format.
A third for instance: Earlier this week, Tibor Szolnok of Graphisoft to show me his company's new BIMx app for iOS, and how they put together the holy troika of cloud, social, and smartphone. Let's look at their approach.
Graphisoft Steps Up
He and I web-conferenced over Skype, where Mr Szolnok shared his desktop computer screen with me, using its Webcam to illustrate the interface of the BIMx software -- Apple has no way of sharing the iPad's desktop for video conferencing. (It reminds me of the 1980s, when I would get screen grabs for magazine articles by coming into the CADalyst office at night, and then shooting the monitor's screen with my 35mm camera.)
To understand BIMx, you begin with Graphisoft's Virtual Building Explorer software. It came out about 18 months ago, and is meant for giving presentations to clients. You can walk around the outside and inside of buildings modeled in ArchiCAD; you can email the model (exported from Explorer) to clients, because it bundles in a viewer.
BIMx is most of Explorer adapted for the iPad. It is part of a system that works like this:
1. On the desktop, export 3D models from ArchiCAD to Explorer.
2. In Explorer, publish the 3D model in the new BMX format to the cloud.
3. On the iPad, view the 3D model, after getting it from the cloud.
Let's take a detailed look at some more of this.
Using Facebook for the Cloud
Graphisoft came up with two ways for BIMx to access files: iTunes sync, and the BIMx Community site on Facebook. The company did not want to build their own community, and so it so used the Facebook API and Microsoft Azure to create www.gsBIMx.com, which is a Facebook page. As a bonus, the page immediately exposes 40,000 Archicad fans to BIMx, once the page goes live next week on September 20.
Since it wasn't Sept 20 yet, Mr Szolnok could only show me a mockup of the Facebook page. Along the top is a ribbon of 3D models. Click on one, and you get details on the project, comments from others, and a link for downloading the model (or you can email someone a link to the model).
To get models to Facebook, the desktop application has direct upload to send files to the BIMx Facebook page; on the iPad, BIMx has a link to this page for directly downloading models for offline viewing.
Facebook is meant for building community in a public manner. To share privately, you use Dropbox or FTP or share directly by email. In a future release, Graphisoft plans to add private model sharing on the cloud.
Defining the User Interface
The most pressing problem of our time is, how do we navigate 3D models with our 2D interfaces? The follow-up question: How long before the law suits start after vendors copy each other, thus killing a standard UI that would benefit customers?
BIMx uses the usual iPad finger controls, and Graphisoft added a new interface that they call the Joystick. This on-screen interface looks like a large translucent dot; as you drag your finger away from the dot, you look around and move around, like this:
- Using one finger results in realistic motion, where you can walk up stairs and ramps, and cannot walk through walls or floors.
- Using two fingers, you can walk through walls and floors. (See Figure 2.) Let go of the screen, and you drop to the floor nearest below you.
- Tap on a door, or tap an item on a wall, and you are walked to the center of the room, or right up to the wall.
Figure 2: The user interface of BIMx, as displayed by a Webcam over Skype.
The joystick dot works in two different ways, depending on the context. (You can just see the large dot in the lower right corner of the figure, above.)
- Inside buildings, gravity is turned on so that you walk at a constant height above floors and steps.
- Outside buildings, gravity is turned off (orbit mode) so that your motion is unrestricted.
- Get close to model, and BIMx jumps to gravity mode.
Naturally, there is also pinch-to-zoom and pan with two fingers. You can combine movements, so that you zoom while walking. BIMx has two aids to help you when you get lost in the model:
- Click the Home button to see the entire model zoomed out to extents.
- Bring up the Map, a small bird's-eye view of the current floorplan in 2D.
"This is a totally natural way for kids raised on shooter games," Mr Szolnok concluded, "But even for their parents, it requires just one finger to get around."
As I watched the real-time demo over the Webcam, I observed no delays as Mr Szolnok moved about the models. A very large model took only a few seconds to load. Because Apple does not provide much working RAM for applications, the BMX format eliminates all unnecessary polygons, allowing large models to fit into the limited memory. BMX includes the surface model, and saves information like layers and elements (objects). A future release of BIMx will allow users to measure distances, toggle layer visibility, and examine element data.
BIMx supports several types of shading, as limited by the iPad graphics. In particular, there is 3D mode that displays the model as 3D with red-green offsets. The iPad's graphics cannot do full shadow casting, but there are some self-shadows that help with the look of the renderings. Transparency works, but again is limited by Apple's implementation of OpenGL; specifically, it cannot handle double transparencies, such as one window behind another.
Graphisoft says the software works on iPad 1 and 2, iPhone 4, and iTouch 4, but recommends the iPad 2 for its faster processor and larger memory.
I asked about a port to Android. Mr Szolnok said many users are asking for it, but the problem Graphisoft faces (as do all other CAD vendors) is that the many Android devices differ in their hardware specs, while iPad has a well defined environment. But an Android version will come, eventually.
Two videos about BIMx are available at http://www.facebook.com/archicad?sk=app_116128088474894
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Out of the Inbox
carlbass [Autodesk CEO] tweets: "Firing [Carol Bartz] this way autode.sk/ritlJA is chicken shit. Like asking for a divorce by email or breaking up by changing your facebook status." I wonder how many of the hundreds she fired at Yahoo got a personal visit? Meanwhile, over on Fortune: "These people f---ed me over" after she was fired by the board for failing to grow Yahoo's revenues. Could it be that her legacy will be the legitimzation of potty-mouthed CEOs?
(As CEO of Autodesk, Carol Bartz fired Carl Bass after he said AutoCAD Release 13 was not ready to ship. She said the software's hundreds of bugs was "a marketing problem, not a technical one," but he was the one who was right, and customers suffered through a record-breaking 11 updates. Mr Bass was hired back by Bartz, and eventually she groomed him her replacement as CEO.)
Microsoft this week released an early version of Windows 8 to the public, and you can install it on existing computers using Oracle's VM software. I found that many device drivers don't work, such as network card, multi-touch pad, and discrete graphics -- and I don't care for the way they mix colorful Windows 7 graphics with the flat UI of Windows Mobile, often inexplicably. Still, it is worthwhile to start looking at the Windows that is due to be released next year. Instructions on how to install it using VM here: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/hardware/windows-8-an-installation-walk-through/14768. (The article includes the link to downloading VM.) The 3.6GB Windows 8 Developer Preview can be downloaded from here: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/apps/br229516
Geomagic moved to bigger offices at 430 Davis Drive, Morrisville, NC.
Gibbs and Associates are pleased as punch as reaching the landmark of developing the 1000th multi-task machine post processor for its GibbsCAM software. http://www.GibbsCAM.com
Long time CAD friend Dietmar Rudolph writes to me from Essen, Germany: "Vintage AutoCAD-related magazines for sale. Author condenses his archive. If you are interested in vintage AutoCAD-related magazines such as CADalyst (1987-2000) or AutoCAD-Magazin (1992-2010), contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Cost is shipping to your location plus whatever you think they are worth to you."
Autodesk makes its Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) exporter for Revit products as open source code, licensed through a LGPL v.2.1 license. Autodesk originally invented IFCs with AutoCAD Release 13, to solve the problem created by the new ObjectARX API that allowed develpers to create objects that could not be read by other AutoCADs. IFCs are a form of intelligent data exchange. Autodesk eventually spun off its IFC development to IAI (since renamed buildingSMART), who narrowed the spec down to the AEC industry.
"The Revit IFC exporter open source code is managed by a five-member steering committee composed of one Autodesk employee and four members of the AEC Building Information Modeling (BIM) community. The Revit IFC Exporter Open Source Committee is chaired by Emile Kfouri, BIM application development manager, Architecture, Engineering and Construction Solutions, Autodesk."
The Revit IFC exporter open source code is at http://sourceforge.net/projects/ifcexporter
An interesting press release from National Institute of Building Sciences tells us "How Building Sciences Have Changed Since 9/11." It used to be buildings were designed to withstand natural disasters expected in the region, but now it's far more. In short, "the new IRVS [Integrated Rapid Visual Screening] screening tools provide a quantification of resilience and risk and assessment of explosive, chemical, biological and radiological attacks; earthquakes, floods and high-wind hazards; and fire hazards. The results are especially useful for identifying a specific asset for more detailed study and developing mitigation measures that will reduce the risk ratings." http://www.nibs.org
"A call to the number  Thursday resulted in no fatalities."
- Nigeria government dismisses 'killer' phone number, Associated Press
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Entire contents copyright 2011 by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved worldwide. Letters sent to the editor are subject to publication. Article reprint fee: $250 and up. All trademarks belong to their respective holders. "upFront.eZine," "The Business of CAD," and "WorldCAD Access" are trademarks of upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. Letters to the editor may be edited for clarity and brevity. Translations and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd.