AutoCAD 2011 marked the software’s return to the Apple community’s bosom after an 18-year absence. Today’s new releases, AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT 2014 for Mac, are the company’s continuing commitment to Mac users, a platform not all 3D design software developers have fully embraced yet. Continue reading
A year after the release of AutoCAD for Mac, Autodesk decided to take a bigger bite of the Apple market. This week, the company is releasing not only an updated version of AutoCAD for Mac but also AutoCAD LT for Mac and AutoCAD WS for Mac.
“Since the release of AutoCAD for Mac last year, customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, further validating the need for professional design and engineering software on the Mac platform,” said Amar Hanspal, senior vice president, Autodesk Platform Solutions and Emerging Business. “Bringing AutoCAD LT and AutoCAD WS to the Mac shows our continued commitment to making design more accessible for an ever-greater number of people to shape the world around them.”
According to the announcement, “AutoCAD LT for Mac follows common native Mac application user interface guidelines, with a familiar Apple menu bar together with a number of workflow-based palettes. AutoCAD LT for Mac also supports native Mac OS X behavior, including Cover Flow navigation and Multi-Touch gestures.”
Licensing options for AutoCAD for Mac now includes network licensing. AutoCAD LT is not available for network licensing.
Venturing Beyond Professional Market
Whereas the company’s flagship drafting and drawing program AutoCAD remains a professional title, its lighter, nimbler cousins AutoCAD LT and AutoCAD WS can comfortably fit into the prosumer market (which straddles the consumer and professional markets). AutoCAD WS, the company’s DGW viewing and markup app, has been available for some time for Apple iPhone and iPad users and Android users. The latest version released is intended for Mac machines running Apple OS X Lion. The software is free.
The company continues to distribute AutoCAD for Mac through its reseller channel, but it is also experimenting with selling products through Apple app store. Autodesk has been selling its free and modestly priced products, such as AutoCAD WS for iPhone and iPad and Autodesk SketchBook Mobile, through the App Store for some time. However, distributing AutoCAD LT (priced $899) through App Store is a gamble for the company, as App Store buyers are more accustomed to purchasing products with micro-pricing (for instance, $1.99 for a song, $4.99 for a game). Depending on the success of its experiment with AutoCAD LT on App Store, the company is expected to push more semi-professional and consumer-usable software titles through this venue. In addition, Autodesk plans to offer Mac-compatible titles through Amazon.com, starting September 1.
Offering its titles through Apple App Store and Amazon.com may be an educational experience, both for buyers and for Autodesk. Apple App Store, for instance, doesn’t support software subscription — a method Autodesk has been using to peddle some of its most popular titles. For the version of AutoCAD for Mac offered through Amazon.com (available for subscription licensing), Autodesk can’t rely on resellers to provide technical support, so buyers will need to use a mix of resources (Autodesk technical support, online training center, blogs, and discussion groups) to master the software and troubleshoot.
The move to go beyond its traditional distribution channel (Autodesk authorized resellers) and venture into consumer-friendly territories reflects the company’s aspiration to explore the outskirts of professional market. A few months ago, Autodesk released 123D, a lightweight 3D design program based on its direct-editing technology Inventor Fusion. The product targets tinkerers, hobbyists, craft makers, and homegrown inventors — all part of the do-it-yourself movement fueling online commerce at sites like Etsy and attendance at trade shows like Maker Faire. This month, Autodesk acquired Instructables, an online portal where ordinary people share project ideas and collaborate.
“Passionate, creative people want communities to support and encourage their endeavors,” said Samir Hanna, vice president of Consumer Products at Autodesk. “As a result of this acquisition, Autodesk will host a unique ecosystem that combines inspiration, accessible 3D software tools and fabrication services so anyone can be empowered to express themselves creatively.”
Looking to Merge Windows and Mac Versions
In the long run, the company plans to reduce the distinction between Windows and Mac versions of AutoCAD, making them much more interchangeable. Laying the groundwork for this vision, the company now allows you to activate a copy of AutoCAD for Mac using the same licensing key on a Windows version. (In other words, if you have purchased a Windows version of AutoCAD, you can download a Mac version, then use the same key code printed on your Windows product box to activate the Mac version.)
In addition to selling AutoCAD as an independent title, Autodesk also includes the product with many of its industry-specific suites, such as Autodesk Design Suite (for general design), Autodesk Product Design Suite (for mechanical engineering and industrial design), and Autodesk Building Design Suite (for architecture and construction). By default, buyers get a Windows version of AutoCAD. However, the new dual-platform activation method will give suite buyers access a Mac version of AutoCAD without having to purchase another license.
Apple’s catchy ad campaign for the iPhone — “There’s an app for that!” — points the way to Graebert and Dassault Systemes‘ next move: an app store for DraftSight, the 2D drafting program produced by their partnership. Of course, Graebert and Dassault can’t really appropriate Apple’s memorable line; Apple has gone ahead and trademarked it for commercial use. But they’re certainly looking at Apple’s app store model as a way to expand the reach of DraftSight.
In June 2010, Dassault introduced a free 2D offering of its own, based on Graebert’s ARES software. The small-footprint program, DraftSight, rounds out Dassault’s 3D products SolidWorks and CATIA with strong DWG editing features. With DraftSight, Dassaualt managed to gain a solid foothold in the 2D market, long dominated by AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT from Dassault’s arch rival Autodesk. Since its launch seven months ago, DraftSight has seen 300,000 downloads.
Come April, you could very well be making money off DraftSight — if you know how to develop specialized apps for the program. At Graebert’s Market for DraftSight, you can find the company’s call:
Graebert’s Developer Studio allows developers to start effective development or porting right away. The Developer Studio will provide powerful SDKs for DraftSight (Windows & Mac) as well as development documentation. Developers will also benefit from easy-to-use tools and development support of Graebert’s Developer Program … Products you develop will be available as soon as they are submitted – you set the price. Information for every customer that tries your product or actually purchases will be forwarded for follow-on marketing. No other web store will be able to sell products integrated with DraftSight.
“Graebert is now making DraftSight an extensible, modular platform that can be customized by users to meet their specific needs,” said Wilfried Graebert, founder and CEO of Graebert GmbH.
Developer recruitment has already begun, laying the groundwork for the store’s target opening date in April. Graebert plans to certify third-party apps for quality and compatibility.
This changes the character of the software from a straightforward 2D drafting and drawing application into a customizable 2D engine. If it attracts enough developers, the market place could become an ideal online destination to look for industry-specific DraftSight plug-ins.
With a dedicated user base, AutoCAD, too, has spawned many custom applications, ranging from homegrown AutoLISP productivity tools to commercial packages. Currently Autodesk operates AutoCAD Exchange, a community portal where users may exchange tips and tricks, but it offers no equivalent to an app store. The anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better rivalry between Autodesk and Dassault suggests one’s success will soon be met with a counter measure from the opposite side. Is that an AutoCAD app store I see in the crystal ball?
On Tuesday November 30, as I made my way through the maze of slot machines and roulette tables in Mandalay Bay to get to Autodesk University (Nov. 28 – Dec. 2), I carried my trusty Canon PowerShot with me. Loaded with a 4GB memory card, the portable camera would let me shoot about 1,600 photos at 300 dpi. At this rate, I don’t need to worry about inadvertently taking a few dozens of, or even hundreds of, imperfect shots.
But it wasn’t that long ago that we were confined to 12, 24, or 36 exposures. With a finite number of shots in each film strip, we constantly monitored the remaining number and used them frugally. We couldn’t afford to take too many bad or mediocre shots. We had to make every shot count. Today, with digital cameras providing seemingly infinite capacity, we take photos with a different attitude. We say, “Shoot now, choose later.” We shoot on a whim. Even if we’re unskilled, we can be confident that one out of every ten will turn out well. The numbers are in our favor.
Now, at conferences, I snap photos of not only what I need for articles and blog posts but also the unplanned moments I’m lucky enough to witness, like Autodesk CEO Carl Bass trying out a stereoscope goggle in an exhibit booth. (I also take photos of slides when I’m too lazy to take notes.) This gives me more opportunities to photograph what I might otherwise forgo and discover what I might otherwise miss.
What if you can treat computing power much in the same way you now treat digital photography? What if high-performance computing (HPC) becomes so widespread and affordable that you can deploy it on a whim? What would you render if you don’t need to wait two to six hours to produce an image? What would you study if your CPU won’t crawl to a standstill with every session of finite element analysis?
The Era of Infinite Computing, as Carl Bass calls it, is on the way. But many of us don’t yet possess the right mindset to take full advantage of it.
A Change in Mindset
In his opening keynote, Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski invoked the spirit of Albert Einstein with a quote: “You cannot solve a problem with the same mindset that created it.”
Up to now, we have been using computing power sparingly, for good reason. We’re confined to what we own. Short of buying another machine, we can’t get more horsepower than the maximum output of the processor in our desktop or laptop. But what if near-infinite computing power is available upon request?
Kowalski pointed out, “We don’t have to own all the computing power ourselves; we just have to [be able to] get to it.”
A good place to take a peek at Autodesk’s strategies for its future is Autodesk Labs, a public site where the company previews many of its R&D projects and let early adopters try them out. Many of the technology previews available here contains clues to how Autodesk plans to facilitate on-demand computing power.
For example, Project Photofly and its accompanying application Photo Scene Editor let you upload a series of digital photos (roughly 36) of an object taken at slightly different angles to automatically extrapolate and construct a 3D scene from the source images. The technology provides engineers and designers with an easy way to capture the as-built geometry of an object (say, a cellphone), then import it into a CAD program for designing custom-fitted components (a cellphone cover, as the case may be). Custom prosthesis makers may use the same method to obtain the shape of a patient’s limb to design an artificial replacement.
You run Photo Scene Editor (downloadable from Autodesk Labs) from your desktop or laptop, but the heaviest of computing — algorithmically analyzing similar shapes and geometry in your uploaded photos and translating them into points in 3D space — takes place on a remote server. This setup allows you to continue to work on your local machine while the photo-to-scene conversion is taking place in the cloud. Currently, Photo Scene Editor lets you export the resulting 3D object as points (DWG) or scene (FBX). But in an upcoming release, Autodesk plans to let you export a mesh model.
Once a technology preview at Autodesk Labs, Inventor Optimization function is now poised to become part of the next release of Autodesk Inventor. (When it was in preview phase, it was codenamed Project Centaur.) The feature lets Inventor users specify certain parameters (expected load, thickness, material strength, and so on), then let the software automatically seek a the best design alternative. Like Photofly, the optimization also uses a cloud-hosted server to run the algorithms on submitted design files.
Soon, Autodesk 3ds Max users are also expected to be able to render their scenes by tapping into a cloud-hosted GPU cluster. The feature is powered by mental images’ iray rendering engine. Demonstrating this feature at NVIDIA GPU Technology Conference 2010, Autodesk used a remote GPU cluster built with NVIDIA Tesla cards.
In all examples, a desktop program serves as a client to communicate, request computing service from a remote cluster (or clusters, as the case may be), and retrieve the results. Autodesk is not yet revealing how it plans to bill customers for such additional services.
Not About Bigger, Faster Design
It would not be the wisest use of infinite computing if we simply think of it as a means to increase our design in scale: Design bigger, render larger, and so on. That would be the equivalent of the way early movie makers used — or misused — the additional possibilities offered by the invention of the movie camera.
“What they did,” explained Kowalski, “was simply planting a camera in front of a stage and recording plays that were already successful. Even the name they chose, Photoplay, shows how they perpetuated the old mindset using the new tool set. The real breakthrough only came when we began to look at the [movie] camera as a way to do something new, not as a new way to do something old.”
Remote access to infinite computing and storage means you can now use relatively lightweight devices, such as an iPhone or iPad, to interact with complex design files. It also bypasses the need for software-and-OS compatibility. Case in point: AutoCAD WS, now available at Apple app store, lets you use a mobile device like iPad or iPod to open, view, and revise DWG files.
One of the most popular downloads among Autodesk software posted to Apple app store turns out to be SketchBook Mobile, an intuitive paint-draw software that lets you mimic the paper-based workflow. Made available on iPad, iPod, iPhone, and (most recently) Android, the $0.99 program has been successful “beyond our wildest dream,” said Autodesk Labs’ VP Brian Matthews.
Later, in the Technology Main Stage panel discussion, Kowalski offered some of his own ideas about how infinite computing, coupled with omnipresent broadband connectivity, might enable us to live and work.
“I want data to follow me; I want content to follow,” he said. “And I want the spaces around us to react to our presence.”
The switch “from scarcity and conservation to abundance [of computing power],” as Bass put it, is bound to give many engineers and designs a chance to try out computational experiments previously impossible to undertake. Here’s hoping we will learn to wield it responsibly.
Mac fans hoping for a version of SolidWorks that runs on their favorite machines will have to wait indefinitely (read “SolidWorks: Exploring Mac OS But No Timetable For Delivery,” Feb 23, 2010), but a new 2D drafting and drawing product may satisfy those looking for an AutoCAD- or AutoCAD LT-lookalike for Mac soon.
Earlier this month, just in time for Macworld 2010, German developer Graebert released ARES, a new product based on Open Design Alliance‘s DWG-compatible technology. Though the software is currently available only for Windows, Mac and Linux versions are now in beta and expected to ship in the second quarter of this year.
With support for nearly 400 AutoCAD commands, popular programming languages, external tables, and block libraries, ARES offers AutoCAD users a familiar environment for 2D drawing. Spline tools let them create complex, editable objects. Customizable gradients and hatches, dimensioning tools, and DWG import/export features round out ARES.
ARES (named after the Greek god of war) comes in two editions: Standard ($495) and Commander ($995). Though it doesn’t offer the more advanced features found in AutoCAD (such as free-form modeling and direct link to 3D printing service providers), ARES could challenge AutoCAD’s dominance as an alternative that costs significantly less.
Along with Graebert’s ARES, IMSI/Design’s DoubleCAD XT and ZWSoft’s ZWCAD are also descending on the market long held by AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT. For more, watch the video review of ARES (standard version) below.