Bricsys 2010 Conference – Keynote

Today I delivered a keynote speech at the Bricys 2010 Conference on the Future of CAD. For those who are interested, here is an outline of my speech. Needless to say, I went on yapping all around the place. You can view the Google Docs presentation here.

Slide 1: The Future Of CAD

Good morning, everyone. So Erik asked me to speak about the future of CAD. Which means that Erik believes that CAD has a future, which is a good thing.

So before I get started, a few things about myself. I am the Founder and CEO of SYCODE, a CAD software company based in India. My company specializes in developing plug-ins to almost all the main CAD applications, including Bricscad. But many of you may know me as a blogger. I started blogging in 2006 have no intention of stopping. The reason I like the concept of blogs as opposed to traditional media is because it is a two way conversation, unlike a printed magazine where you read what someone has to say and it ends there. In a blog you can instantly offer your own opinion to the author and with other readers. Which is the reason why I am going to keep this speech as short as I possibly can so that we have enough time to discussion. So let’s get started.


Slide 2: Future – The Obvious

They say the best way of predicting the future is by looking at the past and analyzing the present. Some things are rather obvious and you do not need a crystal ball to look into the future. For example, in the case of CAD, we can safely say that computers are going to be faster. They will be able to handle larger data sets. Graphics will improve. Autodesk will not open DWG. The ODA will continue to reverse engineer DWG. And so on.

Predicting the obvious is boring. Predicting the not-so-obvious is what makes things interesting.


Slide 3: Who Actually Decides The Future?

Before I get to the not-so-obvious I have a point to make about exactly who decides the future. From the agenda I see that this is largely a developer’s conference. So I guess most of us are software vendors in one form or the other. So I am going to take the liberty to be a bit candid here.

Do our customers decide which way we are going to go? It is our resellers? Or our software partners? Sure they all play a role in helping us decide our future course of action. But ultimately it’s we who have the final say.

Let me give you some examples of how some CAD software vendors have put their interests before those of anyone else. Just about everyone has used proprietary file formats to lock in their customers. The MCAD software vendors have made is a point to ensure that customers cannot save to previous versions. They have tried every trick in the book to get customers onto the subscription model. Companies like SolidWorks have even gone to the extent of denying bug fixes to their paying customers who are not on subscription.

So where am I going with all this?


Slide 4: Future – The Not-So-Obvious

This brings me to the not-so-obvious future of CAD. I would like to talk about two things. (1) CAD on the Cloud and (2) Cross Platform CAD. Actually I believe one will lead to another.

Slide 5: CAD on the Cloud

Before anything I guess the first question that we need to ask about CAD on the Cloud is whether customers are asking for it. I have been writing about CAD on the Cloud on my blog for quite some time now. From the discussions that I have had with end users I have come to the conclusion that CAD on the Cloud is definitely nowhere near the top of customers wish list. They are perfectly happy with the software as it is and would like to see it improve.

Which brings me to the second question. If customers are not asking for it then why are CAD vendors like Autodesk and SolidWorks all excited about it? Why are they spending tremendous amount of time and resources rewriting their software as a service? Who actually gains from CAD on the cloud?

Well, I believe CAD on the Cloud is a solution to a number of problems facing CAD software vendors. For starters, everyone is on subscription. Secondly, everyone is on the latest version. In fact, there are no versions to begin with. Gmail has only one version, the one that is up on the Google server. CAD vendors will not have to support older versions of products. Software piracy is killed. As a software developer myself, I am absolutely overjoyed at the prospect of having people who continuously pay me to use the latest stuff that I develop.

So as you can see, the benefits of moving CAD to the Cloud are way too large for CAD vendors to ignore and that is the main reason why CAD on the Cloud or something like it is the future of CAD. I believe it will happen mainly because the CAD vendors want it to happen and they are the ones who have the final say.


Slide 6: CAD on the Cloud – Present

So are we there yet? Certainly not.

Are we close? I don’t think so.

Are some of us already on the cloud? Yes, for small applications.

Take this presentation for example. I didn’t create it in Powerpoint. I created it in Google Docs. What you are seeing on the screen is actually Firefox playing the Google Docs presentation stored in the cloud. I started this presentation at home, worked upon it at the airport, tweaked it a bit in my hotel room and now am showing it to you. In all this time I never had the software or the data anywhere close to my computer. It was all in the cloud.

Now some of you may ask if cloud computing is meant for small applications only – stuff like Google Docs and Gmail. After all, these apps are really no different from a very complicated web site running all kinds of complex scripts.

But consider this. A MCAD software as massive and complicated as SolidWorks is running on the cloud. Today! Autodesk has taken simulation and analysis to the cloud already with Project Centaur. Both these companies are leaders in their respective fields and are spending tremendous amounts of resources developing these technologies.


Slide 7: CAD on the Cloud – Future

But probably the most important question of all is when this happen? As of today there are numerous technical problems. These will be solved in time. The mindset of users will need to change as well. That may be a problem for the CAD vendors because basically cloud computing is not what customers are asking for. CAD on the Cloud is mainly for the benefit for the CAD vendors, not the customers. The vendors are quoting Henry Ford when he said, “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Their customers are saying, “If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.” It will be interesting to see how this pans out.

A chain is as strong as its weakest link. There are quite a few weak links in this chain. But probably the weakest link is internet connectivity. I believe that CAD on the Cloud will become a reality only when internet connectivity becomes as available, affordable and reliable as electricity. Exactly when that will happen, I don’t know. But I don’t see it happening for the next 5 to 10 years. At least not in the part of the world that I come from.


Slide 8: Cross Platform CAD

I believe CAD on the Cloud will enable cross platform CAD. When CAD moves to the Cloud it really will not matter which operating system you are running. The image you see on this slide was taken from the Cloud demo shown at SolidWorks World 2010 in January of this year. They had Windows, Mac and Linux machines on stage each running SolidWorks in the Cloud. Now it does not really matter whether the Cloud in this case was a server running backstage or a server in some server farm. The point here is that SolidWorks was running on the Mac and Linux. We weren’t given details, but it appeared that there was some kind of a thin client running natively on each operating system which was talking to the SolidWorks kernel running on some server. And this is the present, not the future.

There will be no need to create full blown native applications for each and every platform that you need to support. Simply take your CAD system to the cloud and create a light weight native client application that talks to it.

You know, I have two boys, 6 and 2 years old. When they grow up, they will ask me, “Dad, did you really carry around a computer with you? Did you actually carry around your data on a flash drive?” In their world everything will be up there somewhere in the cloud or something like it.

And when this happens the monopoly of Windows will come to and end. In reality the things that make an operating system or platform successful are the applications that run on it. As far as CAD is concerned, Windows is the platform of choice. When CAD moves to the cloud, it will result in a level playing field and users will be free to choose which platform they want to use.

For example, this presentation was started on my Windows workstation at home and finished on my Netbook running Linux. It really didn’t matter since I was using Google Docs.


Slide 9: Discussion

The discussion that followed was heated to say the least. I managed to convince the bulk of my audience that I had gone off my rocker.

  • From The Register: “Turkey has banned multiple Google services, according to reports, including Google Translate, Google Docs, and Google Books.”

    CAD on the Cloud might not work so well once political entities start messing with our extension cord.

  • When CAD is in the cloud, CAD companies can start selling a service and not software, which is good because your always up-to-date and everything should always work.
    Further on the future of cad I think it is only a matter of time until we have an open-cad format(that also will be used a lot..). If we go to direct editing the features will go abundant, so your data isn't depending on versions that support a certain feature set. Also most CAD programs will be enable to translate basic CAD info to models so you can import a open 3D file format and translate it to a CAD standard. A lot of CAD program can already do this, but not very good..

  • Hello Deelip-

    Excellent post, I agree with you, the CAD Vendors stand to gain the most from CAD in the Cloud.

    Thanks,
    Devon Sowell

  • Vladimir

    Hi Deelip,

    Where can I find information on Project Centaur? At Autodesk Labs, I did not find him. Thank you for your presentation!

  • See http://www.deelip.com/?p=2366 and http://www.deelip.com/?p=2374

    You need to sign up for the Autodesk Beta program to try it out.

  • Vladimir: Project Centaur is the codename for what's officially known as Autodesk Inventor Optimization Technology. It's a plug-in that's currently in closed beta testing (meaning the company only invites only a small group to test it right now). If you're interested, please sign up to be an Autodesk beta tester at: https://beta.autodesk.com/

  • Bmayer

    Deelip – not sure that I completely agree with the notion that computing on the cloud will be 'versionless'. While subscribers will always have the most current version of the application, the models and drawings created over time will change in structure as the application evolves. So, in this sense developers of cloud applications will need to insure backwards compatibility with the content previously created.

    And, of course, there will be continued interoperability issues with consumers of this cloud-created content, when it is used by other desktop CAD apps., as well as other cloud-based cloud apps.

  • murray

    The 'versionless' concept only becomes viable once all of the elements that each customer want to contain in their model or drawing has universal meta-representation, which in my mind also contains 'format-less' implications. Otherwise, SW is proposing a variation of Delcam's e-modeler paradigm, where you use all of the tools available to shape those attributes you want, then pay an amount to 'bail out' your model in a format you can use.

  • Bob,

    You are forgetting that the data lies in the cloud, not just the software. So when a new version of a software is released the vendor will automatically port all the old data created by users to the new format. If a user imports some old offline data that he created long ago into the cloud, that data will be converted to the latest version. Its pretty much how new software versions open and save old format data to the latest version.

    As regards interoperability issues with users of offline CAD, that will just be another way to force people to move to the cloud. Pretty much how all the suppliers of an OEM keep up when the OEM moves to the latest version.

    Problem solved. 😉

  • murray,

    See my reply to Bob above. The ultimate goal (for the CAD vendors) is not to take your data out of the cloud at all. Its like banking. Since all companies have bank accounts, payments are made by the bank which becomes a clearinghouse. Companies don't pay each other by cash notes any more.

  • Vladimir

    Thank you, Deelip

  • “when a new version of a software is released the vendor will automatically port all the old data created by users to the new format” …
    … and of course they ensure that such an automatic conversion will keep your data 100% intact, that no outdated objects are lost and that approved designs still are approved.
    Sounds to me like you may had got some other heated comments (or laughs) if you'd said this on Wednesday.

  • CAD in the cloud is taking trust into the extreme. Who would trust a company that encrypts the data files it creates on a PC?

    PS
    Glad to see that you made it to Paris!

  • Henrik,

    Users already trust their CAD vendor more than they realize. I have elaborated at http://www.deelip.com/?p=2444

  • Dietmar,

    How is this different from how data is automatically migrated today when you open an old file into a new version of software? Software works the same, whether on a desktop or on some server in the cloud. I have elaborated at http://www.deelip.com/?p=2444

  • Deelip, the difference is that today I still have and own the original file. In your scenario I don't. And the lost or changed (by accident or intention) data is the data that was approved, for instance.

  • I am assuming that you will be able to download your “approved” data from the cloud for backup and other purposes and upload it back to the cloud at a later date if required. Pretty much the same way like how you can download your monthly bank statements. So if your bank messes up, you have proof to show what your account looked like a month before and get the bank to rectify its records.

    This is really not that big an issue. There is a Plan B for just about everything in life. 😉

  • So you did have a backup copy of your google-docs presentation? Just in case they added some ads onto your pages?

  • Yes, after I was done with editing my presentation on Google Docs, I saved it as a Powerpoint PPT file to my netbook hard disk drive (which you saw on the stage). So if the WiFi at the event gave up on me when I was making my speech, I could continue using the PPT file which I had offline.

    As far as Ads are concerned, Adware is available today as well. Ads pop up only if stuff that is free. So if I paid for a service there would be no ads in my output.

  • While I regret having missed your keynote (I only participated on the first day), I think I agree to a large extent. Frankly, when talking to people (commonly architects), they seem to care little about their data (formats, versions) unless something breaks, but then it is often too late. So if the software vendors decide that this is the way to go, they will probably follow along.

    However, I would assume that the “thin” clients you talk about will still be quite extensive desktop applications. But maybe more in the sense that they are “runtime engines” with extensive hardware support by CPU's and GPU's, not unlike the game engine clients for MMORPG's. The CAD data might be on the cloud, geometry is probably cached locally and your local client PC would still be a quite powerful graphics-savvy CAD Workstation (satisfying the upgrade needs for hardware vendors such as Intel, Dell and nVidia).

    In Architecture, I could imagine the rise of more BIM-servers, hosting IFC models, which we can access using BIM-software, such as iRevit or iArchiCAD 😉

    But do not underestimate old formats and tools… When building owners decide on an extension to their 20-years old office building, which might have been created in a closed, proprietary, deprecated Desktop BIM system, the Cloud still has to find ways to support this.

  • Stefan,

    If thin clients begin to put on weight, like you suggested, that would actually negate some of the benefits of the cloud computing. For this to work properly, the data as well as the heavy duty computing must happen in the same location – the cloud.

    As regards using data in antiquated formats, that should not be a problem at all. Simply upload it to the cloud and some software will import the contents into the database, pretty much how you open old DXF files in AutoCAD 2011.

  • Deelip, this will be my last post on this subject. Let's take it further the next time we meet.
    Just for the record: You wrote: “after I was done with editing my presentation on Google Docs, I saved it as a Powerpoint PPT file to my netbook”. This proves what I was trying to explain to you. You do NOT have a backup copy. You do not have your original data to take it with you, to archive it, or to do something useful with it. I am talking about the full contents of your data with all internals. What you have got is a stripped-down copy where the original content you created was converted (to some extent, with losses and changes) to some other format.
    Thinking of CAD on the cloud this is like not having the DWG file, but just a PDF of it. You will be able to do some things with it, but you may not be able to do those things you want to, simply because some details (an entity property such as line joints, valid information such as angle precision, or whatever) which is in the original data may not be provided in your “plot file”.
    But even if you would have got local access to the original data (that is the data you created with all internals), it would not help. Simply because there would be no software outside your cloud vendor to be able to use it. You are back at locked file formats, something no longer acceptable to many.

  • Dietmar,

    Maybe you didn’t understand me correctly. The only reason I downloaded the Google Docs presentation to PPT was to be able to continue with my presentation in case the WiFi stopped during my speech. The presentation that you saw on the screen behind me was the real deal, the original data, not some stripped down version of the original Google Docs presentation in the cloud. I could add a new slide to the presentation right in front of your eyes on the stage itself. In fact, if you had the adequate access to my Google Docs document you could add the slide for me while sitting in the audience and listening to me speaking and it would show up on the screen behind me. 😉

    So to clarify your point about “You do not have your original data to take it with you”, yes I do not take it with me. That's because it follows me wherever I go. I simple need to log into my Google account from any device anywhere on this planet. I do not even need a computer to show the presentation to someone. I could have given you a personal version of my speech using my iPhone while we were appreciating those crazy Dali paintings the previous evening. The Google Docs presentation that you would be seeing on my iPhone would be the original data.

    I found myself smiling when I read this statement of yours: “You are back at locked file formats, something no longer acceptable to many.” Really? How many CAD users have stopped using CAD software that locks their data in proprietary file formats?

  • Space_Ghost

    Is that a braid of hair with beads, Bo Derek style, hanging over your shoulder in each of the photos?

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