A Conversation With Jeff Ray

Of all the crazy things I have done for this blog, something I did yesterday is probably one of the craziest. I interviewed SolidWorks CEO Jeff Ray by phone while sitting on the sidewalk of a busy street in my city. Here’s how that happened. SolidWorks Social Media Manager Matt West was trying to get me to meet Jeff who is currently in Pune, India. I couldn’t make the trip to Pune because I leave for my 17 day long Russia-US trip tomorrow and things would be a bit too tight for me. So it was decided that I speak to Jeff on the phone. As it turns out Jeff found the time to call me between one of his many meetings and I happened to be shopping for stuff to take on my trip. So I sat myself down on the pavement, phone in hand, found a piece of scrap paper lying around and started jotting down notes. Crazy, I tell you. Anyways this is how the conversation went, more or less. 😉

Deelip: I have read some views expressed by a few users stating that SolidWorks 2011 is a version that could be skipped because in their opinion not much was added on the 3D side. Most of the notable enhancements were on the 2D drawings side. However, they are also of the opinion that a lot of things that were broken in previous releases have now been fixed. I’d like to know your views on this assessment.

Jeff: If these views have been expressed by people who are actual users of SolidWorks, then we need to respect that and look at it more closely. But I can say that this SolidWorks 2011 beta program has been the most successful program till date. We have received some very nice feedback from our beta testers. This was the best beta ever, and the result of the most intensive research into our customers’ wants and needs. It also depends which features individual users consider important to them. I was in China recently for the launch of SolidWorks 2011 and there were users walking up to us and thanking us for the enhancements in drawing. They were telling us how much time they spent detailing drawings and how this new version would greatly increase their productivity. There are great new features for virtually everyone.

Deelip: At SolidWorks World 2010 you made a huge announcement about SolidWorks on the Cloud and since then there as been a complete information blackout. Why is that?

Jeff: We have been working hard on what we announced and showed at SolidWorks World 2010. We have made a lot of progress on that front. There has been a tremendous amount of sharing of technology between SolidWorks and Dassault Systems and we are confident that we will be able to deliver what we promised. Everything we showed at SolidWorks World was based on live code; there were no AVI’s. And we’re well on our way to making this production ready.

Deelip: Any idea approximately when that will be?

Jeff: We will release it when its ready. Our customers are eagerly waiting for it as well. They are telling us that their CFO’s are beating them up asking them when the Engineering department will move to Cloud since others already have or are in the process of making the shift.

Deelip: There is a view that SolidWorks has stepped down from taking CAD to the Cloud and instead has announced SolidWorks Connect as a Cloud storage solution. So if I understand you correctly, you are saying that SolidWorks on the Cloud and SolidWorks Connect are two very different things and you are most definitely going to take SolidWorks to the Cloud.

Jeff: Absolutely. SolidWorks Connect is merely a communication tool for an audience of literally hundreds of thousands of engineers and designers. It is not even a PLM or PDM system. Our research indicates that 80% of users have no way of effectively communicating their designs with others. They end up doing all kinds of stuff like zipping up files and send them by email, uploading them to some FTP folder or use things like DropBox. SolidWorks Connect will solve that problem while at the same time giving their intellectual property the safety that it deserves. And it’s easy to acquire and use.

Deelip: The other day I reported on my blog that Russian MCAD vendor ASCON is expected to announce KOMPAS-3D on the Cloud next week at the isicad conference in Moscow. I’m not sure if you read that post. I also mentioned that their CAD solution involves running KOMPAS-3D on a server in a data center and using screen scraping technology from Citrix to deliver it on demand to the end user’s device. In your opinion is this method of offering CAD on the Cloud a good one in the long term?

Jeff: Yes, I read that post. I don’t wish to criticize them but I believe when you use screen scraping technology like Citrix you miss out a lot on harnesing the true potential of Cloud Computing. However, seeing our competitors try and scramble up something after making fun of us in January is actually quite entertaining to me. There is going to be a tectonic shift in the way software will be delivered in the future and we are way up ahead in the game.

Deelip: Switching gears a bit, what exactly is the purpose of DraftSight? I know this sounds like a stupid question but…

Jeff: Not at all. This is a very good question. Our customers have been telling us that they need good tools to work in the 2D environment. DraftSight is an answer to that. It is an absolutely fascinating product. The downloads speaks for itself. Within a matter of two months we have had more than 55,000 downloads. All this with a marketing budget of zero. I guess we must have printed a few mouse pads but aside from that all the awareness of that product has been through word of mouth, blogs, etc. DraftSight is a very different product for us in the sense that we are developing it in conjunction with feedback from the community. It is truly a community driven product.

Deelip: Aaron Kelley tells me that SolidWorks will be developing its own API for DraftSight. Isn’t this reinventing the wheel? Because Graebert already has a wonderful API which I have personally used to develop our ARES add-ins. So why not use that API instead of creating your own?

Jeff: Yes, it is quite obvious that Graebert is the best source today for an API for DraftSight. I’ll just say that we are keeping our options open. Our decision will be guided by the feedback that we receive from the DraftSight community. This is one of the many disruptive features of the social community model we chose to use for DraftSight.

Deelip: Recently SolidWorks bloggers have been posting images of DraftSight for Mac and Linux. I believe the release of DraftSight for Mac is around the corner. The other day I interviewed a few Autodesk executives about their announcement of AutoCAD for Mac. In the interview they mentioned that Graebert has used some cross platform user interface technology to create ARES and hence DraftSight will inherit the same. They were of the opinion that using such cross platform technologies does not give a true native Mac experience, which is something they claim AutoCAD for Mac offers since it has been built as a native Cocoa applicaiton. What do you say to that?

Jeff: What else can they say? In fact, they are saying exactly what we expected them to say. DraftSight for Mac will speak for itself. The DraftSight community swings a big axe – this is exciting for customers. The technology is excellent and Mac users will decide for themselves. DraftSight has truly been a different experience for us. The response from the community has been outstanding. Again, 55,000 downloads, zero marketing budget; 100% word of mouth.

  • “…..what exactly is the purpose of DraftSight…..?
    What do Solidworks and Autodesk have in common.

    Answer: Problematic EULA
    What do CEO Bass and Aaron Kelly have in common?

    Answer. Neither answer questions relating to their EULA.

    Sixteen days after emailing Draftsight’s through their web site and still no answer even though we know it made it as far as Ms. S. Locke.
    Patience is something I have in spades and, ain’t ‘CAD in the Cloud’ going to be a fun experience with these vendors!

  • Oleg Zykov

    “Jeff: However, seeing our competitors try and scramble up something after making fun of us in January is actually quite entertaining to me.”
    Our first experience with cloud was in 2008 (www.cad-online.ru), so SW-2010 conf. was not stimulus for us to put KOMPAS in the cloud. Be just go step by step to give new possibility for our customers 🙂

  • Oleg Zykov

    “Jeff: However, seeing our competitors try and scramble up something after making fun of us in January is actually quite entertaining to me.”
    Our first experience with cloud was start in 2008 (www.cad-online.ru), so SW-2010 conf. was not stimulus for us to put KOMPAS in the cloud. We just make steps to give new possibility to our customers 🙂

  • Fcsuper

    Serious Paul, what are you talking about?

  • Mark Landsaat

    It’s good to hear SWX customers are eagerly waiting for the cloud, but I can’t help but wonder who those customers are. I work as a design consultant with a group of approximately 25 clients/vendors and I know for sure that there isn’t a single company in that group that is eagerly waiting for the cloud.

  • William Pelletier

    I really get a kick out of it when Jeff Ray says about the cloud, “Our customers are eagerly waiting for it as well. They are telling us that their CFO’s are beating them up asking them when the Engineering department will move to Cloud..”. I have not seen a real CAD user anywhere say that they were ‘waiting for the cloud’. I frankly wonder what planet Jeff Ray is on. The only people I think are excited about the cloud are software suppliers, who no doubt will use the ‘cloud’ to take away the last vestiges of ‘rights’ a software user has, and manuever users into a position where the ‘cloud’ owners will have complete control over their user’s access to their own data. This in turn will give them the power to charge us whatever they want to charge us. It is bad enough that some software companies tell us that we aren’t really ‘buying’ software, and can resell it if we no longer have use for it. With ‘The Cloud’, I believe this will give software companies what they have been dreaming about: a ‘kill’ switch for any users that do not pay ‘subscription’ or ‘maintenance’ fees.

  • William Pelletier

    PS: I meant to say “can’t resell it if we no longer have use for it.”

  • John

    Given there are 100’s of thousands of commercial users of SolidWorks, I find it totally plausible that a percentage of them would like a cloud based version of SolidWorks.

  • John,

    There is a view that small companies and professionals will embrace the cloud first and the large corporations will be last. The idea here is that the large corporations are more paranoid about their data and stuff like that. I have a feeling that the exact opposite may happen. As far as the large companies go, all it takes is for one guy at the top to be convinced that the Cloud is better and the company will move in that direction. I feel small companies and professionals are well aware of ground realities and will be the last to make the move or not move at all, probably for good reason.

  • Dave Ault

    Great comedian that Jeff fellow is. I got a big kick out of the mental picture of CFO’s beating people up. My little mental picture on this scenario however was the soon to arrive pummeling that CFO’s were going to be getting from actual users and pink slips showing corporate support for their choice of the cloud when the problems with it start.

    Allright all you SW users you have it from the horse’s mouth, well or at least some part of the horse and now is the time to man the life rafts.

    Kill switch indeed and the only question really is does that come before or after the data security breaches or irreversable files corruption.

    This will be a fascinating thing to watch unfold as the SW user community goes ballistic as Mr Ray defends their decision to go to the cloud with absolutely no evidence they have any of the myriads of problems solved with the exception of one. How to hold your customers data hostage so you can legally forcibly extort money from them.

  • Kevin Quigley

    I agree Deelip. It is the big companies who can afford to put in the additional infrastructure required to use it – as in leased lines zero contention internet access. The rest of us rely on public networks.

    Like the comment Mark made above, I know maybe 30 to 35 companies who use SolidWorks and none are chomping at the bit for cloud CAD.

  • Hi Fcsuper.
    We have been asked to look at (trial initially) Draftsight for a particular purpose and asked some questions relating to this clause in the T&C’s.

    “The Non-Commercial Release Version also automatically collects certain system data and transmits the data to Dassault Systemes for support purposes.”

    The reason for the caution is because whilst Draftsight itself will not be used for commercial purposes. It will be trialed within a commercial environment; so we just needed to know what we may be up against.

  • I’m not quite so pessimistic, then again, I have no reasons other than that I just feel like that about this… somehow. For what it’s worth!

  • Neil

    I guess Jeff is subordinate to DS these days so hes getting out and doing the corporate PR bit to the best of his ability but it doesnt do his personal credibility much good to come out with statements like those even so.

  • So much resistance to “the cloud” sounds a bit like a horror movie does it not? 🙂

    I personally quiet like the idea, we have a bunch of our tools on “the cloud” so to speak and its made life significantly easier! Sure it may not be for everyone but I certainly think it’s a large part of our future..

    A lot of the negative comments I hear remind of the days when 3D was the new thing and all the 2D people talked it down.

  • Neil

    Its no part of my future. I wont be buying SW again.
    SW made their bed and they can lie in it.
    Jeff Ray can BS as much as he likes.

  • George

    The paranoia is quite amusing. I dont think many of you realize how much is ALREADY on the cloud. Customer databases, accounting software, ERP/MRP, the list goes on. Anyone use Quicken to do taxes? Sure you havent ;). But maybe you have used H&R Block, and YES their stuff is all on the cloud… but yet, the fear of the cloud seems to overtake you all…the old conspiracy theory. “Once they have our data they will raise prices”…LOL..really? REALLY?

  • Rick McWilliams

    I like to work remotely. The cloud is of no use when I am cruising aboard my boat.

  • George, I believe a lot of people know how much of their ‘life’ is in the ‘cloud’. Equally, there is no ‘reason’ every piece of data we wish to store should not be in the cloud. There are very good reasons why others would differ in their thinking and should not be laughed at nor labeled with paranoid.

  • Neil

    Truth be known George is probably a DS employee.
    Given the drubbing ‘the cloud’ has had from users it wouldnt surprise me to see a counter campaign.
    We’ll see just how imaginary the ‘resistance’ and ‘paranoia’ are.
    My bet is that what is about to transpire will not be amusing.

  • Great inteview! I learned a lot from this.