the business of CAD
Issue #814 | April 15, 2014
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In This Issue
1. 30 Years of DataCAD: A Tumultuous History
2. Heard on Twitter and on the Blog
30 Years of DataCAD: A Tumultuous History
On April 2, DataCAD LLC celebrated its 30th anniversary. In this two-party series, I interview Mark Madura, architect and ceo of DataCAD LLC. Here is part 2 our of interview:
Ralph Grabowski: There is a German connection? I didn't know about that.
Mark Madura: Most of the enhancements in DataCAD 5 were brought over from SPIRIT [the German version of DataCAD that had been developed further].
DataCAD 5 was released in October 1993 at the new price of $495. This was the beginning of Malcolm Davies' plan to "blow up the CAD market." According to him, "No major new MS-DOS versions of DataCAD are planned." (However, the DOS version of DataCAD lasted, with the last major one being version 8 in 1998, about the same time that other CAD vendors also switched to Windows only.)
Under the new leadership, CADKEY become a "virtual corporation," a new concept trendy at the time, they outsourced nearly everything: sales and customer service to UCA (Upgrade Corporation of America); technical support to TSI (Technical Software Inc.); direct mailings to Mirbach and Co. Unfortunately, the new ideas came to devastate the dealer channel, push loyal customers over the edge, and cause CADKEY employees to start sending out their resumes. Eric Smith left, 20% of the staff was let go, and 18 other employees quit.
Almost without warning, 100,000+ piece mailings for DataCAD 5 Starter ($49), DataCAD 5 Plus ($99) and DataCAD 5 Pro ($149) start landing on the desks of design professionals nationwide. They were titled, "The secret Autodesk doesn't want you to know about." During 1994, the new sales strategy doubled the number of DataCAD users in the first three months. CADKEY reported 30,000 copies of DataCAD 6 sold in the US that year.
But outsourcing comes at a high price, and there's not much left of $150 after packaging a 10-pound box of diskettes and manuals, fulfilling orders, and providing technical support. Not to mention the cost of R&D for the next version. Malcolm Davies resigned in December, and Livingston Davies returned as president and CEO.
To Malcolm's credit, DataCAD's customer base was increased dramatically. Many of our customers today started with the $149 deal. However, DataCAD has always been a professional product, and was never designed to be used in an off-the-shelf manner. So when DataCAD 6 was released with RenderStar and a cost estimating add-on, it proved too much for most buyers. It was still a DOS-based product, and that made supporting it difficult and expensive.
RG: What were you involved with at this time?
MM: In the spring of 1995, the architect of CODe left CADKEY and after this began a mass exodus of employees. I was running Madura Studios from an office in Boston, halfway between Tower Records and the Boston Architectural Center, and two floors up from Condom World. We were the #1 DataCAD dealer in the country. To this day, Boston is still a large market for DataCAD.
I got my start with DataCAD by performing extemporaneous, off-the-cuff demos primarily to the principals of architecture firms. Compared to other demo jockeys, my presentations were compelling, because I was an architect. Most of our customers were professionals who not only wrote the check, they also used the software.
RG: How did you come to join DataCAD?
MM: Just after Ken Parrish left CADKEY, Livingston Davies came to my studio in Boston. Over a cappuccino at a local coffee house, he offered me the position of Vice President, AEC Product Group. Now, instead of being critical from the outside, I could have a chance to make changes from the inside -- if only it were that simple!
It was a big decision for me to leave Madura Studios as I had finally gotten past many of my mistakes and was firmly established. But I decided I'd rather go to CADKEY and fail trying, then see someone else succeed!
I started with CADKEY in June 1995 just before my 29th birthday. However, I didn't know I was about to go head on into an avalanche of employees pouring out. Every two weeks, someone would resign, and finally the company was down to fewer than 50 employees, some under a former DataCAD dealer trying to right the ship. When I arrived, DataCAD 7 was already in progress, which we released in November. It was futile to try to do damage control at this point, but I was determined to renew our customer's faith and prove myself by making DataCAD legitimate again.
It did not start well. My relationship with Dave Giesselman, the principal author of DataCAD, was, as he put it, "definitely not love at first sight!" Not surprisingly, it would take time for me to earn his trust with a product he had been working on for eleven years. For example, I brought back Clay Rogers as product manager. He started with Microtecture but was let go during the '93 layoffs; he is still with us today.
RG: At some point, you bought the company?
MM: In June '96, CADKEY the company reorganized as Micro Control Systems; it sold the Cadkey software to Baystate Technologies. Then in August, Dave and I were presented with the opportunity to perform a management buyout of DataCAD.
We had no capital, so our negotiations led to an agreement to pay royalties over time. On October 2, 1996 we declared our independence. We had just a staff of eight in new offices in Avon CT. We made the move during the '97 April Fools' Day Blizzard.
At this point, DataCAD still did not run natively on Windows. This was a problem, especially after the failure of Parthenon which promised to do this. In May, Giesselman and I made an agreement with an off-shore development company. They formed a "top secret" team to port DataCAD's Pascal-based code to Borland's Delphi. A team of six programmers did the work in less than a year, with no upfront cost, in exchange for future royalties. When it was ready, we made a special presentation to our staff in unveiling DataCAD for Windows. From their perspective, it came out of thin air but nevertheless was a pleasant surprise.
To this day, DataCAD is still built on that port to Delphi, while some parts (like the Sun Shader) written in C++. What we love about Delphi is how blazingly fast it is – it takes about 45 seconds to perform a complete build of nearly a million lines of code!
RG: Going back to the involvement with the German company...
MM: To make a long story short, the Windows version of DataCAD caught the eye of our sister company in Germany, SOFT-TECH, the developer of SPIRIT. I was contacted by Dieter Heimlich who had recently partnered with mb Software AG. Since they were in an investment mode, he saw the opportunity to partner with DATACAD LLC. We happened to be in discussions with another company at the time, BRICS Group in Belgium. Ultimately, we decided the mb Software partnership made the most sense, given our long-standing relationship with SOFT-TECH.
After the investment, we ramped up our efforts to bring a localized edition of ArCon (now owned by Eleco of UK) to the US. We also began incorporating their o2c technology directly into DataCAD 9. o2c was revolutionary at the time. It provided extremely compressed file sizes for complex models and a freely-distributable viewer with built-in raytracing; all in an ActiveX control just over 1MB.
Unfortunately, we could never get it established. Even something as simple as implementing our own Imperial (feet, inches) interpreter proved impossible. Today, o2c is available as a cloud player at http://www.o2c.de/en/examples/o2c-cloud.html. Since we weren't making progress with mb Software's technology, we then focused most of our efforts on DataCAD Plus.
Initially, DataCAD Plus was an English-language edition of SPIRIT, though SOFT-TECH's programmers had to do a fair amount of work to incorporate support for DataCAD's file structure and lay the groundwork to merge the two code streams. We released DataCAD Plus 9.5 in May 2000, and continued working on DataCAD Plus 10 based on a unified code base. Coincidently, mb Software filed for bankruptcy and soon after we dissolved our relationship with SOFT-TECH.
Overall, DataCAD Plus was well received by our most demanding customers and the press. CADENCE magazine awarded DataCAD Plus with an Editor's Choice, and we spent a lot on marketing at trade shows, press releases, and advertising. In spite of all this, the return on investment was not happening fast enough. So it turned out that my first five years at the helm would be as tumultuous as CADKEY's. We moved on with DataCAD 10 and gave that version to all of our DataCAD Plus customers.
Then we were faced with inventing our own parametric implementation for walls, doors, and windows. Revit had just been released so there was even more pressure for us to provide BIM-related functions. We did have a couple of meetings with Dave Lemont, then CEO of Revit Technology Corporation, but they were primarily interested in our customer base in exchange for stock options -- and that would have been the end of DataCAD.
Two years later, we released DataCAD 11 with a double-precision database. This was the first time since DataCAD 5 that the drawing file format changed (from DC5 extension to AEC). Previous versions could not open the newer drawing files, which created some consternation with our users. But the enhancements were long overdue. Since then, we added the Save As option with each new version, so now DataCAD 16 can go as far back as DataCAD 11. It would take us a few more years to develop our own smart walls, doors, and windows. These were first introduced in DataCAD 12 in June 2007.
It had taken us a while to recover and business was good. Then the Great Recession hit in 2008. The years following were devastating. Many of our customers laid off half of their staff, and the big firms were now going after the projects of small firms. I remember one of our largest customers started outsourcing their drawings to China. This gutted our business.
At the end of 2010, I created my own version of the virtual corporation. We left our office in Avon and now all employees work from home. Our phone service is managed online, our product is completely electronic, all of our sales go through our online store, and our software developers collaborate via FTP. As the economy continues to turn around, we'll be in a good position for growth.
Currently, we're on DataCAD 16 and committed to DWG and SketchUp compatibility.
RG: Was there ever a Mac version?
MM: The Windows version came out in 1998. There was never a Mac version; our customers use BootCamp, Parallels, or Fusion to run DataCAD on Intel-based Macs.
RG: Have government requirements for BIM affected you?
MM: I can't say they haven't. I remember when Mr. Davies joked that Parthenon was "buzzword-compatible." In a similar way, "BIM" is often used as a catch-all. However, it is actually a spectrum of aspects to design, construction, cost analysis, building lifecycle management, and so on.
So the question becomes, what aspects of BIM do you need? Given the overall needs of our clientele, BIM is not make-or-break for us; it does not offer smaller firms the payoff for the required investment.
RG: What do you see for the future?
MM: I now use a Microsoft Surface Pro. I love it; it's powerful, and DataCAD runs on it beautifully. I use BlueStacks to run Android apps so I don't require an additional device for that. The Pro [which runs Windows 8.x, rather than Windows RT] represents where things are going: easily-portable, tablet-based computers.
Remember when Java was promised to provide cross platform, write once, run anywhere? That never really came about. Certainly, there will come a day when people expect to be able to run their favorite CAD program from anywhere, using any Windows, Macintosh, Android, or iOS device.
Our Sun Shader is OpenGL-based and designed to run as a stand-alone application. We've been looking at WebGL and HTML5 as they may actually fulfill the promise of running on any device in the near future. A good example of this technology is demonstrated in SketchFab at https://sketchfab.com. There are many programs like this popping up right now so I think the demand is probably there.
Maybe DataCAD will one day run on the cloud, but for me, my career has always been about the journey, not the destination. It might be cliché, but your life really is the culmination of all the things you have done up to that point.
And One More Thing...
Simpleware is integrating MachineWorks’ Polygonica mesh processing libraries into its +CAD module, an extension of its core image processing software ScanIP, which imports and positions CAD models with image data. The meshes that result are exported as multi-part CAD models or converted to multi-part volume meshes for physics-based simulation. http://www.simpleware.com/
Heard on Twitter and On the Blog
managementspeak (@managerspeak): Embrace agile, be disruptive and drink tea.
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upFront.eZine (@upFronteZine): Daimler switched from Dassault to Siemens because Catia V6 is so tightly linked to Enivia that it could not work with Daimler's SMARAGD PLM.
Design Software (@engdessoftware): Daimler's 5-yr switch from CATIA to Siemens PLM & NX started in 2010. How's it going today & why'd they switch? http://ow.ly/vBObe #PLM
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upFront.eZine: ASCON Group pre-announced KOMPASS-Home, a 2D and 3D parametric CAD package for non-commercial use. To ship in 2014. http://www.ascon.net
upFront.eZine: Privately-owned and largest Russian CAD software firm ASCON Group reveals last year's revenues: $28 million.
upFront.eZine: C3D Labs tells me that they have their C3D kernel running on Android (a first?), just not licensable yet (only in the KOMPASS-24 mobile app)
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TenLinks Daily News (@tenlinksnews): Dutch Court Dismisses @autodesk Copyright Suit Against @ZWCAD #cad http://tenlinks.com/news/about/dutch-court-dismisses-autodesk-copyright-suit-against-zwcad/
upFront.eZine: Autodesk tells its side of the story in its law suit against ZWSOFT -> http://inthefold.autodesk.com/in_the_fold/2014/04/autodesk-sets-the-record-straight-.html …
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Alex Bausk (@bauskas): RT @jcoglan: Internet conversation:
-- Has anyone tried X?
-- Y is really good
-- I don't like Z
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On the Blog
Here are items that appeared on the WorldCAD Access blog recently at http://worldcadaccess.typepad.com:
Letters to the Editor
Re: History of DataCAD
Great read about DataCAD. I recall when I had CADkey 7.0 That was my 1st 3d program ... not too productive compared to today."
Reading about #datacad and seeing what CAD looked like 30yrs ago, pre-Windows (yes, there was such a time!). Thx to @upfrontezine.
- Paul Wilkinson on Twitter
Memories… DataCAD was one if the first CADs I touched back in 1980s > RT @upFronteZine: 30 years of DataCAD history http://bit.ly/1hxwnLy
- Oleg Shilovitsky on Twitter
Re: Icons vs Text
Bill Fane is a dear friend. I usually find his comments to be insightful and I always find them to be amusing. I'm not sure which one of us has actually used AutoCAD longer; it's probably a tie.
I can't think of the last time that I switched AutoCAD's Status bar so that it displayed buttons as text rather than icons. The text simply takes up too much space. I too was a bit puzzled at first when I saw that Autodesk had completely revamped the Status bar in AutoCAD 2015, merging what had been two separate sets of controls into one consolidated area and apparently eliminating many buttons. But the reality is that the usage tools in AutoCAD (by which the program's developers are able to accurately gauge which tools are used most often) enabled the programmers to better understand what most users do. I think that the resulting Status bar in AutoCAD 2015 is truly elegant. It starts off showing just those tools that are used most often, but is very easily customizable. The tool tips are much more informative, displaying the status of the tool in addition to its name and purpose. Shortcut menus now remain visible until the user closes them, making it possible, for example, to toggle multiple running object snap modes at one time instead of having to reopen the shortcut menu for each change, as was necessary in the past. And consolidating the Status bar opened up space in the interface so that the model and paper space layout tabs could be moved as well, thus adding more vertical space in the drawing window, so the user has more room in which to work.
I wasn't born Chinese. Neither was Bill. I doubt either of us at our ever advancing age could remember 4,500 icons, let alone 45,000. But that's not the point. Most users don't toggle the Status bar controls that often. When they need to do so, the new interface actually makes that process easier. Those tools that users use most often have bigger, more graphically descriptive buttons, which often include text-based names as well. With as many different tools as AutoCAD possesses, I think the new AutoCAD 2015 interface is very intuitive and well organized. Although each individual interface change appears quite subtle, taken as a whole, AutoCAD 2015 is a big improvement over its predecessors.
- David Cohn
The editor replies: On this one, I agree with Bill. For example, Microsoft's ribbon still has text attached to many of its icons, otherwise it would be an even more incomprehensible mess!
Mr Cohn responds: That's fine. We all get to have our own opinions. But as I said in my email,when I read Bill's letter to the editor, I was compelled to write to you.
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No longer in the CAD Industry. Thank you for all the informative information over the years.
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- Maragret Wente
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Entire contents copyright 2014 by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved worldwide. Letters sent to the editor are subject to publication. Article reprint fee: $840. 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.