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.