At the outset, I would like to say that there is no way anyone can review a complex CAD system like PowerSHAPE in a single blog post. In fact, there is no way anyone can do it even in a series of blog posts. All I am trying to do here is to get a general feel of the software and figure out just a few things it can or cannot do.
Another thing. Every CAD software comes with decent amount of documentation and tutorials. At SYCODE we spend a significant amount of time creating help files and tutorials, even though our most of our products are simple file import and export plug-ins, which are pretty straight forward. Having said that, whenever I play around with a CAD system that I am not familiar with, I make it a point not to go through the tutorials. Yes, I know that sounds crazy. But doing this gives me a good idea of how user friendly the product is. I don’t buy the idea that software that does complex things needs to be complicated and difficult to use. One can always find a nice way to arrange things in a simple manner so that even complex tasks can be achieved without having to scratch one’s head too much. Come to think of it, the complicated task is actually carried out by the underlying modeling kernel, not the CAD system itself. So the job of the CAD software developer actually is limited to providing a nice and easy interface to the user which is able to organize the geometric or parametric data, relationships, constraints, etc. in a way that can be then fed to and interpreted by the modeling kernel.
From my experience working with PowerSHAPE 2010, I believe there is scope for Delcam to improve the user interface a bit. Its ok for someone completely new, but there are times when one can get a bit “lost” sometimes. Of course, there are step-by-step tutorials to show you how to navigate around the system. But we all know that people really do not have the time to spend reading how to do this and how to do that. I believe that if after downloading a product, installing it and spending half an hour playing around, if a user ends up with some decent output, however trivial it may be, he will definitely make later time to dig deeper. Otherwise he will simply uninstall the software and continue with what he was previously doing.
My point is that in these times when the attention span of users is extremely short, the user interface is the most important 60 second sales pitch that a software developer can possibly make. I know it sounds unfair to software developers, and it probably is. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles. You can spend all you want on marketing. It will only get you to a point where a prospect downloads your product. After that your marketing goes straight into the trash can. The prospect is now only interested in knowing whether this new thing he is looking at can be of use to him in the next few minutes. And he does not have all day to sit around and read tutorials.
I have seen CAD systems whose user interface is convoluted to a point that I get a headache. The next thing I find myself uninstalling it and making a mental note never to download anything from that company again. Maybe its just human nature, but negative impressions tend to stick longer than positive ones and are very difficult to change.
In the next part I intend to share my first impressions working with PowerSHAPE 2010. By first impressions I mean I will fire it up, dive right in and see how soon I can come up with my first model. I know it sounds scary. But that’s the way I like to do it. Stay tuned.