SolidWorks World 2010

SolidWorks: Exploring Mac OS But No Timetable For Delivery

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:

SolidWorks World 2010, Part Two: SolidWorks PLM, by way of 3DVIA and ENOVIA

In the SolidWorks community, Jeff Ray, John McEleney, and Jon Hirschtick are celebrities in their own rights. Users recognize the company’s current CEO (Ray) and his predecessors and cofounders (McEleney, Hirschtick) by sight. Should they come across one of them in the hallway or on an escalator at SolidWorks World, they’d introduce themselves, praise the enhancements they like in the latest release, and air their grievances about what they don’t. But Bernard Charles, the courtly Parisian CEO of Dassault Systemes, the man SolidWorks CEO Ray calls “my boss,” has long remained an enigma for SolidWorks users — till now.

This year, to introduce an electric vehicle they commissioned for the conference, Ray and Charles literally drove up to the stage together. Charles also demonstrated a feature in Dassault’s 3DVIA on iPhone, by instantly merging the 3D digital model of the electric car with a photo of the engineering team and Ray.

“We’re expanding the role of SolidWorks from the initial promise … where we said 3D mechanical desktop on every professional desk. Now it’s 3D for professionals. We’re broadening the scope and we will continue to expand the portfolio of SolidWorks …,” said Charles.

Charles has been running Dassault, a household name in PLM (product lifecycle management), since 1995. He was responsible for engineering the acquisition of SolidWorks. He’s a firm believer in the power of social networking, crowd sourcing, cloud computing, and virtual universes (3DVIA Scenes, a Dassault product now in public beta, lets you create virtual environments that mimic Second Life for commercial and professional purposes). Right or wrong, his vision might invite snicker and scorn from some hardcore engineers.

Even though SolidWorks has been a subsidiary of Dassault since June 1997, Dassault let SolidWorks run its own affairs like an autonomous company. Charles’ appearance at SolidWorks World foretells an initiative to bring together Dassault’s style with SolidWorks’ tradition — something that makes certain SolidWorks users uneasy.

Professionally Linked, Socially Connected
As the conference drew to a close, Ray once again took the stage for his final keynote. “We will be delivering more new technologies in the next two and a half years than we have in the last 15 years,” he vowed, “but we’ll do it in a way that respects the way you design.”

One of those you can look forward to is a web-based bridge (through the cloud, as it were) to connect SolidWorks to Dassault’s ENOVIA V6, a collaboration platform. The approach is expected to eliminate some of the awkwardness and frustrations associated with communicating design changes via emails.

SolidWorks PLM is to be augmented with online services. The first to be released is SolidWorks Product Data Sharing. Equipped with a thin client as well as SolidWorks-integrated access, the system bypasses the need to copy files onto a shared server in order to collaborate. Instead, users log into a secure workspace, hosted on the web. (The workflow is similar to what can be done with Vuuch, a SolidWorks plug-in developed by former CEO of Seemage.)

SolidWorks Product Data Sharing also solves the collaboration conundrum between those who have SolidWorks installed in their machines and those who don’t. For the latter, the system displays assembly information in a dynamic (expandable, collapsible) assembly tree, complete with thumbnails for each sub-assemblies.

Beyond formal file exchanges, SolidWorks PLM may also be reinforced with social networking features, facilitated via a new platform called 3dswymer (currently in private beta). Complete with real-time news feeds, articles, blogs, 3D visualization windows, and user profiles, the portal appears to be put together with many features currently found on Dassault’s 3DVIA.com and SolidWorks’ 3D Content Central, with elements of YouTube and Facebook thrown in for good measure.

Can’t Stand Still
“We cannot afford to stand still at a time like this,” said Ray in his closing talk. “This is no time to relax and take it easy, not time to give up and wait for this economy to turn around. We have no choice but to get more committed to delivering great technologies and support for you … we’re not standing still; we’re committed to continue to make a difference.”

In the last few years, as Autodesk and Siemens forge ahead with their own versions of direct modeling and Mac-compatibility, as PTC advocates social product development as the new approach to PLM, the silence from SolidWorks at times seems almost deliberate. Some industry watchers, too, begin to wonder if SolidWorks has grown stagnant, has become too accustomed to doing things the way it has always done.

The technologies previewed at SolidWorks World 2010 reassure dedicated fans that the company is getting ready to kick into high gear. To those hardcore SolidWorks fans who are concerned that Dassault’s involvement may deprive their beloved company of independence, perhaps it’s worth noting that, when the two CEOs drove up to the stage together, SolidWorks’ Ray was in the driver seat.

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.

For more, read “Part One: SolidWorks on Mac, in Cloud, with Direct Modeling, Coming to a Future Near You.

For more pictures, visit DE’s Facebook fan page here.


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

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.

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.

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.