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
The rush to bring CAD to Mac goes into high gear this month.
Last week, Germany-based Graebert released its 2D drafting software ARES Commander for Mac OS. Dassault Systemes, a partner of Graebert and a competitor to Autodesk, is set to deliver a Mac OS version of its AutoCAD clone DraftSight in a matter of weeks. (Read “ARES Now Available for Mac; DraftSight for Mac On the Way,” Aug 26, 2010.)
In April 2009, when Autodesk tested the idea of AutoCAD for Mac in an online survey, the company received overwhelming support. Afterward the debut of AutoCAD for Mac was no longer an item of speculation but just a matter of time. This week, AutoCAD for Mac becomes official.
AutoCAD 2011 for Mac is the first version of AutoCAD to be made available to Mac users since 1992. Developed to run as native program in Mac OS, AutoCAD for Mac will allow you to use touch computing (finger taps and swipes to select and rotate drawings), characteristic of Macbooks and other Apple hardware.
In the absence of Mac-compatible AutoCAD, Apple devotees resorted to the next best thing: running AutoCAD on Mac via Apple Booth Camp, Parallels Desktop, and other Windows-emulation programs. This approach deprives Mac users of many features exclusive to Mac OS. Distributed free of charge and developed to run as native Mac software, DraftSight for Mac is poised to become an attractive, economic solution to Apple fans in search of a professional grade 2D drafting package.
In the last several years, Mac-driven mobile devices began encroaching on the CAD market, long dictated by Windows-based workstations. The growing number of iPhone, iPod, and iPad users represents a new challenge for software developers locked in years of R&D investments in Windows. Autodesk plans to address the emerging market with AutoCAD WS, developed for the Apple iOS.
AutoCAD WS is based on Project Butterfly, a browser-based DWG viewing, editing, and markup technology currently on preview at Autodesk Labs. Though not robust enough to replace AutoCAD as a design creation tool, AutoCAD WS is expected to be a complementary app.
But it may be premature to crown Autodesk the first to arrive at Mac Promised Land. AutoCAD for Mac is announced today, but it’s not yet available for purchase. Dassault may still beat Autodesk by delivering a working version of DraftSight for Mac from its DraftSight Community portal before AutoCAD for Mac goes on sale.
Autodesk plans to offer a student version of AutoCAD for Mac for free. Commercial version of AutoCAD for Mac is expected to sell for $3,995 (without a support subscription) or $4,445 (with subscription). AutoCAD WS for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch will be available for free at Apple Apps Store.
For more, also read DE editors’ new item “AutoCAD Comes Back to the Mac.”
Autodesk was the first to tease CAD users with the possibility of AutoCAD for Mac, but Graebert and Dassault Systemes may get bragging rights as the first to deliver commercial-grade 2D DWG editors for Mac OS.
Last week, Germany-headquartered Graebert, developers of ARES, announced that ARES Commander is now available for Mac OS. Dassault’s free software DraftSight, powered by Graebert’s ARES, is also set to debut on Mac in the next three weeks, according to Dassault. (At the moment, if you want to run AutoCAD or AutoCAD LT on Mac, you’ll have to do it through Parallels Desktop.)
Next to ARES Commander, Graebert also sells ARES standard. But Graebert’s current promotional pricing for ARES Commander for Mac at a 50% discount puts the software at €495, the same price as the standard version. When the promotion for ARES Commander for Mac concludes by the end of 2010, ARES standard for Mac is expected to appear.
Is ARES for Mac a harbinger for more native Mac programs? I contacted Graebert and Dassault for their views.
Graebert’s CTO Robert Graebert said, “We’re actively working on a [drawing file] viewer for the iOS [Apple's operating system for portable devices, including iPhone and iPad] .”
Dassault’s Aaron Kelly, product manager for DraftSight, said, “In the next three weeks, we’ll be launching our Mac version [of DraftSight].” He pointed out, “We certainly have other applications that run on Mac. eDrawings is one of them.”
In February, excitement grew over the possibility of SolidWorks for Mac when attendees saw a preview that looked like the CAD program running inside Mac OS. That was not the case, Kelly explained, and SolidWorks for Mac is nowhere in sight.
Kelly explained, “What you saw at SolidWorks World  were applications running over the internet, or on cloud, if you will … They weren’t running natively on [Mac] OS … Looking at future products, it makes sense to consider serving up [programs] over the internet, without having to deliver something platform-specific.”
Graebert noted, “So far, people rely on Boot Camp [a Mac utility that lets you run Windows inside Mac OS] to run popular [Windows] applications, but I think you get more out of the platform if you run it native in Mac OS.”
Kelly observed, “Customers that we serve are pretty heavily invested in PC-based systems,” but also acknowledged, “More and more, I find that people have a PC at work but opt to use a Mac at home … Also, in education space, a lot of computer labs for engineering software may be set up with PCs, but in the dorm, you have Macs … There are small pockets where engineering software is used on Mac, but most of that seems to be in the AEC [architecture, engineering, construction] side. Dassault is not a big player in that space.”
CAD developers may consider the desktop Mac market negligible, but they’re finding it much harder to ignore the ever-growing portable market, dominated by iPhone and iPad. If these become standard devices among field crews, students, and jet-setting professionals, Windows-based engineering and design software publishers will have to find ways to accommodate them.
For more, listen to my recorded interviews with Robert Graebert and Aaron Kelly below:
At Macworld 2010 (Moscone Center, San Francisco, California), amidst a sea of iPod skins and audiovisual gadgets, it was all too easy to overlook the lone analysis software developer CEI, right across the aisle from The New York Times. While the respected newspaper was vociferously peddling subscriptions of its digital edition (to be delivered on Apple’s newly launched iPad), CEI demonstrated volume rendering, a new feature now available in its EnSight CFD 2.0 software.
EnSight is described as a “visualization solution for your structural analysis problems, including thermal, vibration, acoustic, and mechanical … a complete post-processing and visualization product for CFD (computational fluid dynamics), FEA (finite element analysis), FSI (fluid-structure interaction), and engineering data.”
Commercial versions are available in Lite, CFD, Standard, and Gold editions (for a comparison of features, study this chart from CEI). According to the company’s blog, Ensight CFD 2.0 and later versions will be made available in native Mac Cocoa graphical user interface (“A Native Cocoa Mac GUI? Really?” Dec. 4, 2009). This paves the way for CEI’s other products (Lite, Standard, and Gold) currently on X11 (X Window System) to follow suit eventually. Newer versions running natively in Cocoa environment are expected to make better use of Mac OS features.
Along with the new version, the company is releasing a free trial version of EnSight with some limitations. For example, the free version won’t read all file formats, and produces results with a watermark. Volume rendering, however, is available in both the free version and the paid version.
A few weeks after Macworld wrapped up, Symscape, which declares “affordable computer-aided engineering software” as its mission, released Caedium v2.1, the first version with Mac support. Previous versions support Windows and Linux; the latest version adds Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) and 10.6 (Snow Leopard) to the list.
The Mac Appeal
Darin McKinnis, CEI’s VP or marketing, said, “The appeal of the Mac platform is partially based on the fact that it offers the combination of a large commercial software library and the good technical underpinnings in the kernel. The commercial software library includes MS Office … Adobe products … and Apple applications … The UNIX environment with shells, X11 (X Window System), etc. makes Linux/Unix appealing to the technical development community.
“Whereas with Windows, it’s more difficult to replicate that Unix/Linux environment. So if customers are demanding Unix or Linux as an option, there will not be that much difficulty also in supporting the Mac … a segment of the market will be looking for that. Some of this also seems to be driven by the academic markets need for laptops and mobility — engineering and scientific academics are much more likely to use Macs than the typical desktop bound worker
“Another appeal is the platform’s strengths in consistency of applications written for it. Since printing, fonts, PDF creation, and other mainstays of modern computing are part of the built-in experience of using a Mac, it’s much easier to adopt new Mac applications for your workflow. This also makes it easier to develop applications on the Mac. And features like CoverFlow, Xgrid, etc. make it easier to make applications that are intuitive and engaging for the customer.”
Newton’s Apple in Research and Academia
“One advantage the Mac has over the Windows,” noted Richard Smith from Symscape, “is the relatively stable and limited range of machine/software specs, which makes for an easier software porting and testing cycle … Caedium’s architecture was carefully designed to be cross-platform right from its initial beginnings. The main concerns for a cross-platform product are the GUI and the 3D visualization … Also the Mac has a strong following in academia, which is an important market for Caedium.”
CEI’s McKinnis said his firm started supporting Mac in 2003 because of the release of OS X in 2000. According to him, “That finally gave Apple the robust Unix/Linux underpinning that seemed to really drive a lot of support. We also had the good fortune to hire a young developer who had a passion for the Mac … [Furthermore,] we had long supported Unix and Linux and we were starting to get requests from customers in the academic and government CAE market asking for a Mac version.”
McKinnis may have been personally responsible for the development of Mac-supported Caedium, because he “graciously donated a Mac [to Symscape] for porting,” recalled Smith. Similar products available for Mac include Tecplot (for CFD post-processing) and Pointwise (for meshing and grid).
One research organization that once placed a bet on the Mac platform for analysis was NASA Langley Research Center, which developed a tetrahedral unstructured software system, known by the abbreviation TetrUSS. According to its creators, the software is “a time-tested computational aerodynamic capability servicing the configuration aerodynamic needs of NASA’s airframe and exploration programs.”
It was named NASA Software of the Year in 1996 and 2004. It also grabbed the Best Apple Design Award for Scientific Computing Solution in 2004. But the staleness of the product’s home page suggests R&D resources once devoted to the software may have been diverted elsewhere. Site log indicates it hasn’t been updated since August 2006.
Recently, at SolidWorks World 2010, SolidWorks made waves (perhaps more than it intended to) by revealing R&D efforts in progress to explore Mac support. But contradictory statements from company officials make it nearly impossible to assess SolidWorks’ true commitment to the Mac platform. (Read “SolidWorks: Exploring Mac OS But No Timetable For Delivery,” Feb. 23, 2010.)
Most high-end analysis and simulation software product — such as those from MSC Software, NEi, and cd-adapco — remain almost exclusively on Windows. But renewed interest in Mac, as illustrated by the releases of CEI’s EnSight CFD 2.0 and Symscape’s Caedium, suggests at least some developers think the platform is worth a second look.
Hold your applause for SolidWorks on Mac! It may be premature.
After previewing what looked like SolidWorks running inside Mac OS at SolidWorks World 2010 earlier this month, the company reveals it can’t commit to delivering a native Mac version of SolidWorks in the foreseeable future.
“Mac users will have better access to tools from Dassault Systemes SolidWorks in the future; however, we have no plans for our SolidWorks CAD product as it exists today to become available as a native Mac application,” said Fielder Hiss, SolidWorks’ VP of product management.
So what exactly did the presenters show the audience during the main stage presentation? According to Hiss, they demonstrated “[cloud-]hosted versions of prototype applets running on [a PC with] Windows 7, on a Wacom tablet, on an all-in-one Mac workstation, a netbook, and an iPhone.”
In other words, the audience did not see anything running as native application, installed on Mac, though at times the presentation appeared so.
(Note: This, however, contradicts SolidWorks CTO Austin O’Malley’s explanation of the technologies shown at the conference. He wrote, “The iMac and Windows 7 devices were running native implementations of the software, while the netbook was accessing a hosted version of the software through a thin client interface,” in a blog post.)
The point of the demonstrating with multiple computing platforms, Hiss explained, was to show that “with cloud-based technology, platform is irrelevant. Essentially, it lets people use any device they feel comfortable using.”
Browser-accessible hosted software doesn’t rely on the operating system of a user’s machine to boot and run, so it’s bound to be available to anyone logging in using a supported browser. But placating Mac fans with this approach is, at best, a compromise, because it doesn’t take full advantage of the Mac hardware and OS.
“We developed [these preview codes] to be platform-independent,” said Hiss, “but if we choose to at any time deliver them as native versions, we can deliver them as native Mac, Linux, Windows versions.”
The prototype code and applets demonstrated at the conference, he added, are all fully functional (in other words, not mock-ups representing concepts).
At SolidWorks World, one thing became abundantly clear to SolidWorks developers. “There are lots of people excited about Mac,” acknowledged Hiss. “We continue to watch [the platform], prototype things [for it], but we just don’t have a time line on exactly when we can deliver these as products.”
For more on this topic, read the following:
- “Confusion over SolidWorks on Mac,” Architosh, Feb 18, 2010.
- “SolidWorks clarifies future direction with respect to Mac,” Architosh, Feb 19, 2010.
- “More on the new technology shown at SolidWorks World 2010,” The SolidWorks Blog, Feb 23, 2010.