SolidWorks World 2010, Part One: SolidWorks on Mac, in Cloud, with Direct Modeling, Coming to a Future Near You

An estimated 5,000 packed the arena in Anaheim Convention Center to hear SolidWorks CEO Jeff Ray's openning keynote.

An estimated 5,000 packed the arena in Anaheim Convention Center to hear SolidWorks CEO Jeff Ray's openning keynote.

SolidWorks CEO Jeff Ray took the stage to welcome SolidWorks fans.

SolidWorks CEO Jeff Ray took the stage to welcome SolidWorks fans.

At 8 AM on Monday morning, SolidWorks CEO Jeff Ray took the stage inside the 7,500-seat arena at Anaheim Convention Center, to be greeted by an an estimated 5,000 SolidWorks fans. Two quarters into the breakout session, he revealed what SolidWorks users could expect to take advantage of in the not-so-distant future: “things like cloud and online computing, things like multi-touch devices … netbooks, mobile [devices], and Mac — yes, Mac!”

Clearly, he hit a nerve. The spontaneous applause that erupted in the audience was louder and longer than the initial one he received when he first walked in.

What About Mac?
Earlier, as Ray shared the stage with Dassault Systemes CEO Bernard Charles (“my boss,” as Ray called him), a mysterious machine sat on the podium, shrouded in mystery. When the time came, Ray literally unveiled a Mac, prompting a few gasps and a round of cheers from the audience.

The demo that followed showed a newer version of SolidWorks (sporting an interface that’s significantly different from current versions in the market) running in Mac OS. It wasn’t immediately clear if the prototype software code was written to run on Mac hardware in Mac OS as a native application, or if it was hosted on a remote server and made available via Internet protocols.

Later, Joe Dunne, SolidWorks’ director of technical marketing, confirmed, “We’re working on several concepts. One of the concepts is definitely running SolidWorks as a native Mac app, in addition to the no-install (browser-based) version … So you can run it on a Mac or run on a Mac machine using a browser — take your pick.”

By definition, cloud computing solutions don’t rely on a user’s hardware or OS to deliver the required functions (hence the popular term Software as a Service). A web-hosted CAD modeler is bound to be accessible to both Windows and Mac users, but addressing the demand for Mac-compatible CAD in such a fashion may not fully satisfy dedicated Mac fans, because this approach doesn’t take advantage of Apple’s hardware and OS.

Note: After this post was published, SolidWorks cautioned it had no specific time frame for delivering a version of SolidWorks that would run in Mac OS. For more, read “SolidWorks: Exploring Mac OS But No Timetable for Delivery,” Feb 22, 2010.

SolidWorks technical marketing director Joe Dunne, before a screen that promises SolidWorks for Mac users. (Note the Mac machine on the display on stage.)

SolidWorks technical marketing director Joe Dunne, before a screen that promises SolidWorks for Mac users. (Note the Mac machine on stage.)

Going from Desktop to Cloud in Three Years
As Ray recalled, three years ago, he issued a mandate to the SolidWorks research and development (R&D) team. “I want you to get us ready, to be able to provide a technology preview to our customers to show them how these new technologies [cloud computing, mobile devices, touch-sensitive devices, Mac] will help them solve their everyday problems … things that drive you nuts, like installs and updates, speed and reliability.” The first tangible proof of things to come, Ray estimated, would a “cloud-based product that starts shipping later this year.”

Oleg Shilovitsky, who maintains the Daily PLM Think Tank blog (focuses on product lifecycle management), pointed out, “Computational problems could no longer be solved just by increasing hardware, so renting computational power [delivered] in the cloud and paying for the time you use it” may emerge as one of the business model among productivity software providers.

Though most mid-range and high-end MCAD programs today offer stress analysis and some simulation features, users tend to perform these operations judiciously because of the drain of computing power associated with them. “But if the cost of computational power is cheap, it could change the way we think about these [higher-end] computing functions,” Shilovitsky pointed out.

Cloud computing promises computing-intense operations (analysis, rendering, and simulation, for example) could be made available for micro payment, with no additional hardware investment other than a standard browser. When this practice becomes widespread, as Shilovitsky predicted, users may not think twice about running an analysis or simulation session.

Direct modeling handles, in a future version of SolidWorks.

Direct modeling handles, in a future version of SolidWorks.

Push-pull modeling paradigm set to get more robust in the near future.

Push-pull modeling paradigm set to get more robust in the near future.

Joining the March Towards Direct Modeling
On stage, during the preview, SolidWorks’ R&D team impressed the audience with dynamic modeling and editing capabilities that went far beyond what was currently possible with SolidWorks Instant3D. Dunne said, “We’re looking at combining direct modeling and parametric editing … everyone has their own approach to it. What they didn’t do is write from scratch. We decided that’s what we’re going to do in ours.”

Dunne wasn’t prepared to go into greater details about how the new modeling approach might work with the modeling kernel SolidWorks currently uses.

In the last three to four years, SolidWorks has remained quiet on its strategy on direct modeling while its competitors roll out a series of products and proofs of concept to address this (most notably, Autodesk’s Inventor Fusion and Siemens PLM Software’s Synchronous Technology).

News of SolidWorks’ exploration of direct modeling may come as a relief to some users who see this method as an easier, faster way of working. On the other hands, hardcore parametric modeling fans may treat this with some concerns. Either way, as more vendors have begun embracing direct modeling, SolidWorks has little choice but to join the race, or risk becoming a latecomer.

For more photos from the conference, visit Desktop Engineering’s Facebook fan page.

For more on the conference, read “Part Two: SolidWorks PLM, by way of 3DVIA and ENOVIA.

For my interview with stereoscopic display technology developer Infinite Z, conducted on behalf of SolidJott, watch the YouTube clip below:

More reports from the show floor coming later.

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17 Responses to SolidWorks World 2010, Part One: SolidWorks on Mac, in Cloud, with Direct Modeling, Coming to a Future Near You

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  • Popularity of SolidWorks will be enhanced many fold if it comes onto Open source operating system. For starters, instead of Excel integration inside SolidWorks users should also be given the choice of using Open Office. It would do the SolidWorks User Community immense good with the cost of ownership coming down by atleast US$300. Add to it DirectX support (in addition or in lieu of OpenGL) and you have taken US$1000 of the Graphics Card !

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  • John Bull says:

    It was a great conference at the Anaheim Convention Center

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  • Alex Payne says:

    I can only imagine what he is seeing. But it seems really cool!

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  • Brant Williams says:

    What is SW and DS thinking. This is idiotic.

    From a computer hardware and savings perspective, ‘cloud computing’ (online servers…and perhaps online application hosting) makes sense ONLY for very small companies, with very large data hosting requirements.

    But typically, very small mfg and design companies are just the type of companies that are going to be very wary of hosting their crown jewels (design data, CAD models, etc), on some online server and application hosting service, which they have no control over. These same type of companies are staffed by savy technical people (engineers/designers), who while not IT professionals…are capable of configuring and running a small server system..ON THEIR OWN.

    Medium and larger size companies gain no advantage from cloud computing…as they can easily support their own server systems.

    Finally…very large mfgs are NEVER going to let their proprietary design data be hosted out of their control.

    Server virtualization and application hosting is simply not sensible for the type of company is involved in CAD design. Its great for a small company, hosting massive amounts of data (online companies that don’t actually make things!)

    These marketing fools at Solidworks and DS need to get out of their offices and actually talk to their customers who use the software. They will find that the benefits they perceive with respect to cloud computing and mechanical design software are not there when you actually talk to customer.

    This is just another case of IT centric markeing people pushing something simply for the novelty and fashion of it, not because it actaully represents any real value added.

    SW has just taken PTC down a notch…and if they go down this route…the will be committing suicide. Sheer foolishness.

  • Brant Williams says:

    “I want you to get us ready, to be able to provide a technology preview to our customers to show them how these new technologies [cloud computing, mobile devices, touch-sensitive devices, Mac] will help them solve their everyday problems … things that drive you nuts, like installs and updates, speed and reliability.” The first tangible proof of things to come, Ray estimated, would a “cloud-based product that starts shipping later this year.”

    Oh yes….all we do is sit around uninstalling and re-installing SW. This just drives us nuts. The rest of the time we are sitting in Starbucks trying to design pressure vessels on our iPhones. It would be so so much better if SW were on the cloud so I could proof these drawings while I listed to folk music and try and pick up the hot barista.

    Get a clue Jeff Ray. It is mechanical design software. Collaboration is nice…but 90% of users of this product are engineers and draftsmen who go to work in the same office every day. Project groups are usually 1-10 people.

    Want to make the product better…concentrate on data management, custom property tools, and design automation data management. That is where a USER can make money with this software.

    If there is one constant in business…is the stupidity of corporate management….

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