the business of cad
Issue #756 | November 19, 2012
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In This Issue
1. Autodesk [ is | is-not ] Going Cloud-exclusive
2. Running CAD on Small Screens, Part 2
- Challenges Faced by Mobile Operating Systems
(A research paper from upFront.reSearch)
3. Out of the Inbox, and our other regular columns
Note from the editor: No upFront.eZine next week, because I will be at Autodesk University. The next issue of upFront.eZine comes out on December 2.
Autodesk [ is | is-not ] Going Cloud-exclusive
Autodesk didn't react after its ceo Carl Bass in April made this controversial statement during a video interview with TechCrunch: "I'd say two to three years from now, every one of our products will be used online. The only way to use them will be online." (Watch the video yourself at http://techcrunch.com/2012/04/04/keen-on-carl-bass-why-autodesk-remains-incredibly-relevant-tctv/ .)
He probably should have stopped at the first sentence; it's the second sentence that got the blogs and forums chattering over the following months: did he really mean it?
After Autodesk vp of building industry strategy Phil Bernstein last week seemed to say the same thing in an interview with Business Standard magazine ("Right now, we are moving some apps (collaboration and analysis tools) to the cloud. Our long-term strategy is to move everything there."), I posted the statements to WorldCAD Access under the headline, "'All our applications will run on the cloud only" -- Autodesk execs.' (For background, see http://worldcadaccess.typepad.com/blog/2012/11/all-applications-will-go-on-the-cloud-autodesk-execs.html .)
First to respond was Autodesk Labs software development manager Scott Sheppard, who wrote his personal opinion in comments on my blog and Steve Johnson's cad nauseam blog. He felt that Mr Bass probably meant not just the cloud, but servers internal to corporations as well:
The part that people forget, and Carl neglected to mention, is that as the technology develops (e.g., Project Twitch, Project Blink), our customers will be able to host our applications themselves. So when Carl said "cloud only," IMHO he should have said "non-desktop." We have many customers today who would rather put our applications on their own internal server and have hundreds of their employees run them from that one spot...
So in terms of intellectual property protection, if you think of keeping the applications and data on your servers instead of ours, this is not your traditional desktop-only solution.
(Mr Johnson's blog entry with Mr Sheppart's comments are here: http://www.blog.cadnauseam.com/2012/11/06/why-autodesks-cloud-push-will-fail-part-1-failure-defined/#comments)
Problem was that Mr Sheppart wrote only of running software on a second type of cloud (in-house), and Mr Bass used the word "only." We're back to "no desktop software." Friday afternoon Autodesk marketing asked to have a conference call with me. On the call was Andrew Anagnost, Autodesk senior vp of industry strategy and marketing, and Clay Helm, public relations manager for manufacturing, cross-platform, sustainability, and consumers at Autodesk.
Q: In his interview with TechCruch, your ceo Carl Bass said in effect, Everything is moving to the cloud.
A: "Everything moving to the cloud" is completely inaccurate. Desktop apps are being complimented; we are adding to what customers are doing today.
Q: Why did he say that, if it is not what Autodesk is planning?
A: I cannot say why Carl Bass said that. The cloud is really important to us, but it is not the whole story.
Q: Why did Autodesk wait seven months before reacting to the statement by Mr Bass?
A: I don't know.
Q: What is Autodesk's thinking about desktop programs and the cloud?
A: Customers are shifting. We are making options to let customers engage in heavily connected, heavily mobile, and heavily social ways.
Such as with analysis. We did not take away desktop simulation; we added options to people who can work in the cloud. Even then, they are starting from the desktop. [For the list of Autodesk's current cloud offerings, see http://en.autodesk.ca/adsk/servlet/pc/index?siteID=9719649&id=17957289 .]
PLM [product lifecycle management] is incredibly well-suited to the cloud, like CRM [customer relationship management] , like Evernote [cross-platform note taking app] . We are complimenting what users are doing with the cloud.
There are so many things that have been bugging us before the cloud, that we couldn't do. Now we can. Building models don't like mechanical models [i.e., Revit does not communicate with Inventor well]. But when this is done in the cloud, it gets so much easier.
Q: AutoCAD 2013 has new commands that access Autodesk's pages on Facebook and Twitter [ai_open_facebook_with_product and ai_open_twitter_with_product]. What about firms who do not want employees using Facebook during company time?
A: They don't have to. Facebook is for grandparents keeping track of grandkids.
We see new types of design organizations that come together through social interaction, and we want to build this kind of thing for them, such as DesignFeed in AutoCAD WS. It lets teams tag items in designs with photos and notes.
Q: Is DesignFeed your own technology?
A: Yes, and it is free in WS. You should try it out.
Some people will start their relationship with Autodesk through our new [social, mobile, cloud] stuff, but most will be existing customers who try out the new technologies.
The best evidence is how we have behaved historically. When we included Mechanical Desktop with Inventor, the media complained that we were killing Mechanical Desktop; you were probably one of them. But we didn't; we came out with six, seven more releases of it, completely free.
Q: I don't want happening to Autodesk customers what happened to Solidworks users, when Dassault Systemes left them with three or four years of FUD [fear, uncertainly, doubt] due to the vagueness of their plans for Solidworks and V6.
A: We are not getting rid of desktop applications. But neither are we going to slow down because new technology is available. We'd be a fool to not be in front, and in fact we think we are leading in it.
So, which future does the customer face with Autodesk: cloud-only or cloud-assisted desktop? I suspect Autodesk's top executives prefer the future of a cloud-only technology. This is already the reality for the tens of millions of 99-cent-paying customers running the social apps Autodesk has acquired or written.
But for the millions of other customers who provide Autodesk with the remaining $2-billion-a-year in revenues, the desktop will stay. This is the side on which the bread is buttered.
Running CAD on Small Screens
Last week in upFront.eZine, part 1 described the current state of operating systems for mobile devices. This series is based on the talk I gave in October at Bricsys International Developer Conference 2012 in Amsterdam. This paper was produced by upFront.reSearch, the research and whitepaper division of upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd.
2. Challenges Faced by Mobile Operating Systems
The Android and iOS operating systems have made in just a few years remarkable progress, but at this point sill suffer shortcoming that affect CAD development. Let me run down for you the problems faced by CAD vendors:
Apple's iOS is not resolution-independent, and so developers have to write apps twice, once for the small, low-resolution iPhone screen and then again for the large, high-resolution iPad screen. (They don't have to do the rewrite, but then iPhone apps run in a small window on iPad's large screen.) The problem is made worse with the higher resolution of the new iPad and iPhone models.
Apple tends to not report the amount of RAM in its portable devices, and so developers have to guess at what might be available to them. That, and iOS devices tends to have smaller amounts of working RAM than do Androids. The guess is that recent iOS devices have 1GB RAM available to apps. In contrast, the newest Android devices are shipping with 2GB RAM, while tablets and smartphones from ASUS are engineered to allow applications access to all bult-in RAM, typically 16GB or 32GB..
Users cannot "side load" apps on iOS devices, and must go through Apple's App Store. This presents a problem particularly for software reviews, because then CAD vendors end up paying Apple to allow a reviewer to access the software. In contrast, Android allows apps to be installed from any source: from official and unofficial app stores, copied from desktop computers over USB or WiFi, or copied from another Android.
Developers tend to write for Apple's iPhone smartphone and iPad tablet first, even though Google's Android overall has twice the market share. The reason is that Android suffers from fragmentation. Because the Android operating system is freely available, anyone can modify it to match their hardware. The problem is twofold:
(a) companies like Amazon and a legion of Chinese hardware makers write custom versions of Android; and
(b) when Google issues an update, everyone then needs to mod their modifications, which might be just plain too much work.
Google is trying to fix this by making each Android release more device-independent, but new releases of Android are commonly not available for older devices. In contrast, Apple is good at supporting old devices, and can offer universal updates because of the closed hardware only it can sell.
Microsoft's Mobile suffers from a tiny, less-than-5% market share that just keeps declining. The company is trying to fix this with Windows 8, in which the "Metro" finger-friendly interface will be forced later this month on desktop users. In reaction to the enterprise-unfriendly UI, corporations announced that they plan to skip Windows 8, not a terrible surprise given how many still run the decade-old Windows XP. (XP is good enough, and more importantly is compatible with corporate applications.)
CPU Incompatibility. The primary problem, however, is a CAD vendor's biggest hurdle: the RISC-based ARM CPU used in nearly all smartphones and tablets is fully incompatible with the CISC-based Intel/AMD CPUs used in desktop and notebook computers. This means CAD vendors have to write many parts of the software from scratch.
To overcome this problem (and to be able to sell its CPUs into this huge market), Intel has ported Android to run on its Atom-based Medfield CPU.
With Windows 8, Microsoft hopes to make it easy to port desktop apps to ARM CPUs, albeit for their mobile operating system only -- not Android or iOS.
Open Design Alliance has Teigha on Android and iOS, which means that at least the DWG read-write API is readily available to CAD programmers.
Working RAM. The next hurdle is the small amount of memory available to CAD apps, as little as 256MB in early iPhones. While Windows on the desktop benefits from paging (data too big for a desktop computer's memory is moved to the hard drive temporarily), this is not available on portable devices. The CAD vendor has to fit all this inside of 512MB to 2GB of memory:
Generally, portable devices do not display drawings in their original file format, because the files are too large and so display too slowly. Nearly all CAD vendors convert their proprietary formats to a more compact one that strips out unneeded information and/or compresses it. To get desktop CAD drawings to portable devices, in some cases users have to explicitly save to the mobile format (such as GStarCAD's MC format), and in other cases save the drawing to the cloud, which does the conversion for them (as with AutoCAD WS).
Interaction with Humans. Portable devices require us to use our relatively fat fingers to navigate the small screens, as contrasted with a thin stylus of early PDAs or mouse cursors on the desktop. How do we see the part of drawing under the finger, precisely we are trying to edit? There are several solutions:
GStarCAD's MC (short for "mobile client") shows a bird's-eye view window of what is under the finger.
Most CAD software so far, however, involves only viewing, and so fat-fingered editing is not too great an issue.
Touchscreens can detect five to ten simultaneous touches (i.e. 5 to 10 finger motions at one time). This encourages Apple, Google, and third-party developers to come up with multi-touch interactions. The drawback is that at present there is no standard -- beyond drag-to-scroll and pinch-to-zoom, or double-tap to zoom.
Even panning is inconsistent: some CAD programs use a single-finger drag, others require two fingers. Worse, users are stuck with memorizing a variety of multi-finger moves among multiple applications.
Graphics Accelerated. ARM CPUs now include a GPU component (called "Mali") for displaying graphics more quickly, but until now Mali had limited support for the kinds of OpenGL graphics ((known as "OpenGL ES") used by most desktop CAD programs. (Inventor is a notable exception in that uses DirectX only.) The speed in today's desktop 3D graphics comes from handing the work over to the GPU in graphics boards from AMD (ATI), Nvidia, and Intel GPU, after the CAD program translates its models to OpenGL or DirectX.
The Mali 400 is the most common in today's devices, boasting these features:
Smartphones and tablets released next year are expected to have graphics on par with desktop computers, such as OpenGL and DirectX. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mali_(GPU) for more data.
Next in part 3: how to benefit from CAD on mobile devices
[An earlier version of this article first appeared in Design Engineering magazine.]
Out of the Inbox
The biggest Russian MCAD vendor ASCON is this week releasing an update to their KOMPAS-3D V13 software, calling it Plus. It's their first 64-bit release and first release with parallel processing, meaning larger, more complex assemblies can now be loaded up. The other "plus" function is 3D mesh modeling, so that you can now do arbitrary editing of 3D solid and surface faces. Check it out through their 30-day no-charge demo at http://ascon.net/en/download/kompas/items/?dl_id=532 (after registration).
Siemens PLM and Bentley agree to work together on digital factory software to take on Dassault Systemes. First step is to work on common file formats, and to integrate workflows for factory layouts. Later steps involve getting Siemens' Teamcenter and Bentley's ProjectWise software to talk to each other. Who knows, the third step might be the Bentley brothers selling their namesake company to Siemens AG as the retirement plan.
Nemetschek Vectorworks promotes Maria Bible to chief financial officer. Ms Bible is the company's former controller.
In other Nemetschek news, Graphisoft has its BIMx CAD viewer software posted to Amazon's AppStore. It'll run on Android-based Kindle Fire HD and Gen 2 tablets. Catch is, this version's only available to you folks in France, Italy, Germany, Spain, United Kingdom, and USA, apparently. http://www.amazon.com/Graphisoft-SE-BIMx/dp/B009XAIQ7W/ref=sr_1_1?s=mobile-apps&ie=UTF8&qid=1352150751&sr=1-1&keywords=bimx
SIMPOE is offering a no-charge version of its complete SimpoEdge plastic injection software that runs inside Solid Edge, for 45 days. That'll probably be long enough for you to get an entire project done! The catch is that this freebee is downloadable only until the end of this year. Get it while you can from -- and I gotta love this URL -- http://www.simpoe.com/download/2-download-the-free-version---thanks-to-register-to-receive-within-12-hours-the-link-to-download-.html after registration.
But that's not all! Also free for high school students is Solid Edge itself -- apart from the educational site license already available to high schools. Hey kids, learn at home! Limits are that it runs for 12 months only, that 2D drawings are watermarked, and that it lacks the university-level type of commercial support. Register and download from http://www.plm.automation.siemens.com/en_us/about_us/goplm/arc/se-academic/educator/high-school-download.cfm
Geometros Company does custom application development for 3D modeling, visualization, animations, and so on. They now have tutorials for 3D parametric modeling using C++ at http://www.geometros.com/sgcore/tutorials/index.htm
On our blogs
Here are some of the items that appeared recently on our WorldCAD Access blog at http://worldcadaccess.typepad.com:
And on our Gizmos Grabowski blog at http://worldcadaccess.typepad.com/gizmos:
Spin Doctor of the Moment
"The next high tide is not expected for several hours."
- Unknown writer, "Whale found on White Rock Beach south of Vancouver", CBC News
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Entire contents copyright 2012 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.