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.