Nibbling at the AutoCAD Pie

AutoCAD is the most widely used CAD software, which makes it’s customers the number one target for any new CAD software vendor. In recent years there have been a whole new range of low cost CAD systems and they have all tried to nibble at AutoCAD’s pie. The tactics used by these vendors to achieve this have been as different as the CAD systems they make. I wish to share my views on the three low cost CAD systems: Alibre Design, IntelliCAD and Rhinoceros.

Alibre Design
Alibre is all set to shake things up in the CAD software industry. Their CEO, Greg Milliken, has a blog called “Alibre CEO Blog“. He wrote an article “Thank You Sir May I Have Another” which leads me to believe that he is guy who speaks him mind. I am not sure whether his blog is a reflection of his personal views or whether describes Alibre’s company policy towards their competitors. Here is part of what he said in the article:

“If you are an Autodesk customer and you accept this behavior [product retirement] then you need to realize you are a part of the problem. Your dollars are reinforcing this, both by rewarding them for their disrespect of you, and also by not rewarding those who are truly working to move the industry forward, earning your business through respect and adding value.”

I do not disagree with the contents of the article. Just like Greg, I am against product retirement and believe it is a shameful way of forcing customers to upgrade. However, I am not sure that pointing an accusing finger at prospective customers is a nice way of wooing them.

I believe that Alibre Design is a great piece of software – very powerful and wonderfully priced. I intend to develop add-ins for Alibre Design in the near future.

Unlike Alibre, the IntelliCAD software vendors do not have the liberty of cursing AutoCAD, since their software is essentially an AutoCAD clone and they market it as such. Their entire marketing strategy revolves around the phrase “Low Cost AutoCAD Alternative”. Their strategy is to woo AutoCAD customers (who are presumably fed up with expensive upgrades or high subscription costs) by telling them that there is an alternative which works just as well. Pretty simple and straightforward.

McNeel, the developers of Rhinoceros, are pretty smart people. They could have easily marketed their software as an AutoCAD replacement, because the GUI and a lot of other things closely resemble AutoCAD. They could have also asked prospective customers to “switch over”, citing low cost as a good enough reason to do so. But instead they began marketing Rhino as a “companion” to other CAD systems, thereby slowing getting into the workflow of prospective customers. They claim that Rhino can be very handy along side your existing CAD system.

The Rhino trial is designed to supplement this marketing strategy. Most software vendors have a time-limited trial period, usually 30 days. The Rhino trial has a limit of 25 saves. After that it will still work, just that it will not save. So even after the trial expires the prospect can still use Rhino as a free viewer (since Rhino is able to import a large number of file formats) as well as a free analysis and measurement tool. The idea is to get the prospect to make Rhino a part of his workflow. Instead of having him uninstall a trial that will no longer run, they want him to keep using it in some way or the other, in the hope that one day he will go ahead and purchase a license. Smart.

I have been writing plug-ins for Rhino since version 2.0. It is an awesome piece of software with an extremely powerful and easy to use API. I know many AutoCAD customers who have purchased Rhino licenses to work along side AutoCAD. I know this because I have written customized plug-ins for their Rhino installations to do things that AutoCAD could not do or I could not customize AutoCAD to do.